Last week was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. If a root canal and the Norovirus got together and produced an offspring – it would look like last week. I can make some tepid jokes about it now, but there was nothing funny about last week – it was the worst many of us had felt since the wee early hours of November 9, 2016.
While we were still reeling from the coverage of immigrant children being separated from their parents and held in cages, came the staggeringly sober news that Justice Anthony Kennedy was resigning from the Supreme Court. When I got the BREAKING NEWS alert on my phone I prayed it really was FAKE NEWS.
It felt like the time years ago when I hit the wrong button on my first iPhone and accidentally did a factory reset – losing all my never backed up photos and contacts. That slow motion feeling of not being in control mixed with deep sadness for what might be permanently erased.
I don’t care if we knew it “might” be coming. I’m a proud reality denier and I had put that particular item far down on my To Worry About List. Once I caught my breath, I cried. I did. It was just too much to process after EVERYTHING else. Fortunately, I was at home by myself, so my cat was the only eyewitness to my breakdown and her silence can be bought with a few extra treats.
I’ve spent much of my adult life working for LGBT civil rights – including devoting a sizable chunk of my professional life to advocating for people living with AIDS. I suddenly saw the past 25 years or so like a montage – all the meetings, all the marches, all the fundraising, all the stinging defeats, all the friends – some dead now – all the years of incremental progress – then the rush of huge advancements. I could feel it all slipping through my hands like sand. I felt hopeless.
And then my phone started blowing up. First one in was my gay boyfriend, Jeff. We’ve said for years that we would be the perfect couple except for the little detail of sexual orientation. He’s the gay man version of me – cranky with a wicked sense of humor. I adore him, and we have shared many hours stuffing envelopes, canvassing neighborhoods, hosting fundraisers and kvetching about the current state of affairs. Side note: We narrowly avoided a tragic accident years ago while delivering a Porta Potty to a special event. It almost tipped over in Jeff’s truck while we were placing it in a friend’s backyard. If the Porta Potty hadn’t crushed us to death, we would have most certainly died from humiliation.
Jeff basically expressed the same things I was feeling – that everything we had worked so long and hard for could be eradicated as the balance of the Court shifted. And then he texted a few minutes later to say he had gone to the men’s room to throw up. The thought of losing some of your civil rights can make you toss your lunch. My crying didn’t seem so bad then. Jeff always makes me feel better.
Then I got a Facebook message from my friend, Bo, in Wilmington. We served on the
board of Equality NC for several years and have stayed in touch. He wrote, “I share your fear and I want to walk with you in our next right thing. You taught me that all is not lost. We have to keep teaching each other.” Damn. I was crying again – only this time the tears were sweeter.
And then I got a phone call – old school – from my mentor/Jewish mother/friend/sage, Phyllis, in DC. I worked for her years ago and we became family. She and her husband hosted my wedding to my dear wife in 2014. Phyllis is fearless and is always the first to call – in good times and in tough times. When I answered the phone, I said, “Please tell me we are moving to Norway.” She said, “Addy, I feel like someone in my family has died.” Just hearing her voice made me feel safer.
I turned off the TV. I couldn’t bear to hear the talking heads start to circle the body like vultures, speculating on who Trump would select. I’ve barely watched any news since then. Thank God for BBC crime dramas – I find them oddly comforting. Nothing like a good grisly murder or two set against a gray London backdrop to lift your spirits.
My wife and I had dinner plans that evening with a friend from our church. She’s a delightful and smart retired woman who has hosted us for supper in her home a few times. I’m a vegetarian and she’s kind enough to even prepare some fabulous tofu dishes for us – nobody ever does that. We usually bring a bottle of wine – that night we brought two. Just in case.
We had a surprisingly lovely evening sitting around her dining room table as the sun went down. I love that time of day and the light cast a peaceful balm over us as we talked. We came home feeling a bit better.
I had one more Facebook message waiting for me – from my good friend Megan. We worked together for years around HIV/AIDS issues and she and her husband are two people who always seem to be on the right – as in fair and just – side of everything. She oozes integrity and her support has always meant a great deal to me. She wrote, “Holding you and many others in my heart… don’t lose hope.” I felt like I had a logjam of life rafts available when I finally fell into bed that night.
But do you want to know what lifted my spirits the most amidst the angst of last week? I could give you a gazillion guesses, and you wouldn’t come close. Ready? A chocolate éclair. And, no, I wasn’t self-medicating. It wasn’t even my éclair. On Friday, I met my bestie, Carla, at a local coffee shop. Carla is in grad school and we’ve been taking advantage of her summer off by meeting every other Friday for a three-hour coffee date. Seriously. We always meet at 9 AM and we’re never done before noon. That’s a lot of coffee and conversation.
Our croissants and cappuccinos were long gone by the time a smiling young Asian man put down his paper plate on the table right next to us. We both started staring – lusting really – at the scrumptious looking chocolate éclair on his plate. Clearly, we were not as smooth about it as we thought we were because he looked at us sweetly and said, “Would you like a bite?” We both giggled with embarrassment and I think I fumbled a bit and said, “Oh, no, sorry, that éclair just looks so good.”
Carla got up to use the restroom and our new pal returned to his table with his coffee and settled in to enjoy his treat. He caught my eye as he held his plastic fork and knife in his hands and said, “Really, are you sure you wouldn’t like to try this?” Seriously, I really DID want to, but honestly, I could feel my throat closing with emotion. There was something so incredibly moving about his simple but genuine kindness in that moment. I wanted to hug him, but I was afraid he might think I was going to nab that big ass éclair.
Carla returned to our table and as we headed towards the door, I told him that we would not have been so generous with our éclairs and he laughed and told us to have a nice day. I could almost hear Won’t You Be My Neighbor playing in the background.
Let’s make the most of this beautiful day
Since we’re together, might as well say
Would you be my, could you be my
Won’t you be my neighbor?
I know it’s a gross simplification to imply that good pastries make good neighbors. I just know that a random exchange with a perfect stranger in my local coffee shop made me feel like somehow, we will make it through to the other side of this darkness. Together.
When I got home I reread the last part of Megan’s message:
“You just need to know you’re not alone in this. I come from a perspective, forged from coming of age in the 70’s, that we’re smart enough and tough enough to outmaneuver the bastards if we just work together.”
Mr. Rogers couldn’t have said it any better himself.