Presence and memory. Sometimes I have moments. I can't distinguish reality from a foggy, layered illusion.
I watched L so closely this week. Her face so similar, her stance the same, wearing the same clothes, holding the same toys. Her days echo her sister's of two years ago. She mastered such a basic skill this week. Standing is so rote, so fundamental. But it's also an incredible achievement and I marvel at her. And when I do, when I fill with love and awe so fully that I can't look away, I see her presence, and like a sheaf of transparencies, I also see a moment of her sister's past.
When I look at L, I see the younger E. When I look at E, I see the future L. Another gift of their sisterhood is that each makes me think of the other. But staying anchored in the present while flipping back and forth from the past can be challenging.
I've been immersed all week in one of the most amazing coincidences of my life. I began a lengthy new project at work on Tuesday. I've been researching the events surrounding the enrollment of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi in 1962. I spent 8 hours on Tuesday reviewing stories of blind hatred towards an African-American who simply wanted to get an education at the school of his choice. State policemen, US marshals and the National Guard were all deployed to ensure his safety. Representatives of the US Department of Justice flew from Washington to Oxford, Mississippi to stand over his shoulder as he registered for classes, just to ensure he was given the same rights as any other student. A mob of over 2000 rioters destroyed much of the campus. Just because a black man dared to want for himself something we find so commonplace today, so appropriately ordinary.
Then I rushed out of work to go vote for Barack Obama. And I stayed up far too late into the night, celebrating the news that we had just elected an African-American to lead our entire nation.
And on Wednesday, with his Grant Park speech still fresh in my mind, I re-immersed myself in the story of James Meredith. Wednesday night I absorbed as many news stories as I could about Obama's win, and Thursday I sat down to my Meredith work. Thursday night I signed up for email updates about plans for inaugural events, and Friday I spent with Meredith.
Unlike with my girls, where similarities across two years are so strong they can be disorienting, spending a week mentally flipping between Meredith and Obama was-- also disorienting, but for the stark differences.
I had considered myself pretty informed before but the experience of this week has been the best civil rights lesson I've had.
How far we've come: in Obama's lifetime federal law enforcement was required for a black man to enroll in a non-specifically-black school, and now Obama is President-Elect. My mind. The layers. My mind can't stop flipping them back and forth, examining them against each other, flipping some more.
So our civil rights have come so far, right? Except, of course, if you're gay. Disclaimer on this whole thing: I'm a straight, white, married Yankee. So what do I know. But I'm ceaselessly upset about California's Prop 8. I'm "heteronormative." So easy, so dull. But my mind, the flipping, the flipping. I look at L's face and I see what E's was. I look at E's face and I see how it's forming, how they might look one day. I see their futures. How do I explain what happened this week? What if they're not like everyone else? What if one of their differences means their rights are restricted? I read somewhere else this week this perfect sentiment: "You want to know what weakens and violates the sanctity of my marriage? Denying it to people who love each other as much as we do."
And then I saw this: it's not much. It's crass, maybe. But if many, many of us in the normative majority express our upset with the treatment of the nonmajority, well, that's-- a start.
For my friends, for my girls, for my marriage and its value, for civil rights in our country: that people in love can't get married should be a notion as obsolete as a black man unentitled to his education.
Prop 8, here's to you: