We humans have a problem with storytelling. Sometimes we get so caught up in what we want to be true that it becomes hard to figure out what is true. When we can’t figure it out, we beat ourselves up for it because we need answers. Malcolm Gladwell, the New York Times bestselling author of Blink says, “We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for. There are times when we demand an explanation when an explanation really isn’t possible. People are ignorant of the things that affect their actions, yet they rarely feel ignorant. We need to accept our ignorance and say ‘I don’t know’ more often.”
Have you ever been stuck in story you wanted to be true and when it wasn’t, you couldn’t figure out why not? I have. Twenty years ago I met a young man whom I was sure would be the best partner for me. As a boy he had dodged gunfire while swimming across the Mae Cong river to reach a Thai refugee camp. Later, he became a fluent speaker of five languages and his story was the antithesis of my boring Midwestern upbringing. Oh, the adventures we could have! Me, the Iowa farm girl and him, the Laotian refugee! It sounded exotic and fun and so unexpected. Instead, we broke up and he joined the Peace Corps. But I had such a hard time letting go of what could have been that I traveled to Cameroon, Africa, where he was stationed determined to figure out what went wrong and to write myself into this story I was attached to.
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The short version is that, despite efforts on both our parts, being with him was not the story I was meant to live. It all made sense on paper, but something was missing that neither of us could define.
Among the greatest lessons I took from this experience was to trust how I feel even when those feelings can’t be named. We got along, certainly, but in the end the element that was missing was that indefinable quality — Gladwell’s “I don’t know.” I knew something was different when I met the man I would marry because whatever it was that I did not have with my first boyfriend, I had in spades with the man I married.
I keep thinking about this when I think about the upcoming vote for amending our constitution that asks us to define marriage between a man and a woman. It seems many of us are stuck in the stories we have been told. For a long time we have been lead to believe that love and marriage looks a certain way and it is uncomfortable to have these notions challenged. In my own little case, I ignored what was true because I was so intent on what I wanted rather than what was. It’s not hard for me to think of all of the young people out there willing their fate as a gay person not to be true, trying to write a different story, any story other than the one that is real, because of the fear they have for the future and how their family, friends, and community will view them.
So for now, I would like you to consider a different story on the eve of the election. Set aside everything you think you know about marriage. Set aside everything you have heard regarding the amendment. Set aside the ads and the letters and the campaigns and the statistics. Set aside what your friends and your ministers and your family members have told you and, for just a few minutes, think about what you know to be true about real love. Let that sink it and fill you up because we know that real love in its purest form is powerful. Now think a bit about what it means to be gay, how that might feel as a child, and how it is something you may or may not understand. Being gay and experiencing love will happen regardless of how we vote in November. You may not understand it, but as Gladwell suggests, this is fine because you don’t have to know everything. Understanding love is enough.
It’s simple, really. voting “no” to the constitutional amendment defining marriage acknowledges that we can’t control other people’s stories, and best of all, we don’t have to. What we can do is then is to get out of the way and make room for them to unfold as they will knowing that no one corners the market on love.
Please vote “no” for all of the stories that have been told, and for those yet to be written. Letting everyone love without fear is what this vote is about. Honoring people as they are and not what you want them to be is acknowledging the truth as it is. Chapter 8, verse 32 of John states, “The truth will set you free.”
In this case, voting “no” against the marriage amendment will set everyone free, and that will be a true story worth telling.