MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. - Here at the Christmas season it is so wonderful to spend time with family and friends -- to share the beauty. But the season also makes us miss even more the family members who are not here. In particular, I miss my mother, who died in 2008.
I thought of my mom last week when the movie my husband and I were watching was interrupted by breaking news: "The Senate has repealed Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell." I felt a surge of exhilaration: We as a society were rejecting one more form of discrimination!
Still, I could not help but wonder at the euphoria I felt. It was as if I had been suffering from an ache I wasn't aware of until it went away. I guess I was discovering that the adage about "an injury to one is an injury to all" can be literally true. I had been painfully aware of the injustice of allowing gays to risk their lives for our country, to offer us all their gifts and talents, only to be dismissed from service if their identities were revealed. Now it was like the old joke: "Why are you hitting yourself on the head?" "Because it feels so good when it stops." By ending anti-gay discrimination in the military, our country had stopped hitting itself on the head. And it felt so good!
But my joy came also from my mother.
Mom grew up in a strict Christian and Republican household, one of four sisters. As the girls grew up, Mom's three sisters became more liberal than my mom. They supported Stevenson; she supported Eisenhower. They supported Kennedy; she supported Nixon. Mom even donated $20 to a special fund to build President Gerald Ford a swimming pool in the White House. (She hated to think of a man under such pressure not having a good place to swim.) Meanwhile, her sisters were moving away from traditional Christianity and joining the Unitarians or no church at all. My mom, in contrast, became more deeply religious and more active in her church. In her seventies, Mom wrote a beautiful essay on Communion -- the miraculous, transformative encounters of a woman with her Savior.
That's why it was startling to me when in her eighties Mom stopped going to church -- to the mega-church she had attended since retiring to Florida. My father had passed away by then and the church played an important part in her life. True, she had objected when the church opened up a private school -- she was a passionate supporter of public education and tutored in the grade-school near her apartment until shortly before her death -- but she had stuck with the church despite that disagreement. So what had pushed her to leave the church? She later explained to me that it was sermons against gay marriage that were the final straw.
"I was very happy with your father," she said. "Why should I deny that happiness to someone else?" Her eyes filled with tears as she said this. Shortly thereafter, she wrote a letter to the Miami Herald supporting gay marriage. "God made homosexuals just as He made you and me," she wrote.
Thinking about it now, I realize that Mom, too, had felt an inner pain at the injustice suffered by gays -- and that she had passed this sensibility on to me, just as she gave me my brown eyes, my first Bible, and my first experience of Christmas. Injuries to others were injuries to her, and their celebrations were hers as well. In amazement, I realized that in rejoicing at the repeal of Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell, I was expressing Mom's feelings, as well as my own.
So maybe my mother is with me this Christmas after all!
Indeed, the thought pops into my head as if she were reminding me: Yes, this is the season to embrace "family and friends." But if we want to keep growing in our politics and our religion, those categories must include the whole world.