How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these.
–George Washington Carver
When I was going to graduate school in the late 80s, I didn’t know a lot about the gay community. One night, on the invitation of a friend, I visited a Gay Pride convention. They were hosting a musical performance called the Rainbow Connection. The location was Richmond, Virginia, a bastion of white conservatism, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Arriving there, I felt distinctly strange. I looked about me at couples—male couples, female couples, mixed sex couples. I was a straight person. They were them and I was me. I didn’t belong there.
And yet the energy and joy and love I felt around me was palpable. These people, these people who I was not a part of because of an accident of birth or genetics or choice were happy and joyful and inclusive. They let me in, with no problem.
My problem was, should I choose to accept their invitation or not? I accepted.
Last night I attended a hand bell choir. The flyers said “heart-warming, joyous.” When I got there and saw the performers, I was at first taken back.
Here was a chorus of individuals who were mentally retarded. Some had an unusual appearance, others had ticks or repetitive habits. Several were attended by parents or helpers, who prompted when attention lagged and got the performers back on track again.
For an hour, we listened to “Joy to the World” and “Jingle Bells” and “Come all ye Faithful” performed on electronic hand bells. The pace was slow, but the performers concentrated. The music was beautiful.
The audience consisted mainly of family and friends, brothers and sisters whose physical resemblance was sometimes uncanny, like seeing the same face in a distorted mirror.
Yet the attitude of the audience was total acceptance, and the room was filled with warmth and laughter.
Love is a strange and wondrous thing. Again I was moved, and again I was accepted.
The evening concert reminded me that sometimes the issue with human difference isn’t with them, it is with us.