Old devil hate, I knew you long ago
Then I found out the poison in your breath
Now when we hear your lies, my lovers gather ’round
And help me rise to fight you one more time
No storm nor fire can ever beat us down
No wind that blows but carries us further on
And you who fear, oh lovers gather ’round
And we can rise and sing it one more time
A hard wind thrashes my bleeding hearts. They are a gift from my mom, as are most of my perennials and many of my personality traits. Eloquent, pink flowers dangle at the end of their down-curling stems, reminding me of bowed heads and tears.
The wind was already blowing when my parents arrived last week with a carload of my mom’s green thumb—various hostas, black-eyed Susans, Echinacea, lavender, pink coral, daisies, Solomon’s seal, spiderwort. My mom and I each pulled on one of my sweatshirts against the sudden coolness of June. We planted them together in two large beds, alongside plants from a friend, re-rooting the legacy of womens’ attention to beauty and life.
Then we traveled to my sister’s home for a party. On June 12, our family celebrates two women—my sister and my mom—and their initiators into motherhood—my niece and me. This year, we are all together on this birthday. I awaken inexplicably weepy, emotion trickling over my internal spillway, feeling the world, without even seeing the news. I walk into the kitchen, straight into a hug from my mom, who has not yet seen the news either.
One of my mom’s best gifts is throwing her arms wide open. When I was a kid, my mom’s good friend, Joe, died of AIDS. I sat beside her and dipped a needle into dark cloth, helping to stitch Joe’s panel for the AIDS Memorial Quilt. We wept at his funeral, held at our Mennonite church; any objections to this location for a gay man’s funeral were smoothed over by our wise and loving pastor. As Joe had requested, a recording of Carly Simon swelled against the rafters that day, singing, “Let the river run / Let all the dreamers / Wake the nation.”
Gay and lesbian friends and relatives have always shared our lives and our home, with or without partners. So I am lucky. My parents strive to live generously, with intentional acts of acceptance—working to know how to love, why to struggle, and when to grieve. This way of living is both instinctual and learned. We do this together, on purpose.
I want to let my mom’s gifts flow through me, so I practice astonishment at flowers and the sky after a storm. I open up big laughs and cry easily. Children and dogs receive my most patient compassion, and adults receive my open arms. Echoing my mom, I give people food and flowers as they have come to me. I become an ally.
I spend my birthday this year moving in and out of hugs—my parents, my sister and her husband, Andrew, Sam and Stella, and even the guests for my niece’s first birthday party, strangers who quickly feel like friends. We have all seen the news from Orlando by now, and it scrabbles at our insides with sharp claws. I carry a full well of emotion, overflowing here and there. In this warm afternoon, though, we cheer for my niece as she raises her cake-smeared index finger triumphantly into the air—One!
There are so many fierce and joyous ways to galvanize our communities against hate. There are so many ways to love each other. There are never enough words to describe devastation and the aftershocks of tragedy.
Back at home, the gusting wind—even at its worst—does not destroy our bleeding hearts. Instead, they dance. Among the rocks in my garden, these tender, vivid flowers will return every spring to remind me, reassure me. The music will play again in my mind: “Oh lovers gather ‘round, and we can rise to sing it one more time.”