Happy New Day

As today approached, I was feeling conflicted. It’s the first day of a new year: a time for new beginnings, new plans, and new goals. January 1 comes with the opportunity for a fresh start and a chance to put the old year behind me.

I don’t want to give this day that power and I don’t want to give it that burden. I want it to  be just another day. That way, it’s no more important than every other day that I wake up. Every day holds the possibility of a fresh start and a chance to put the day before behind me. Why dedicate just one day to it?

Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities
no doubt have crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.

Tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely
and with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with
your old nonsense.

This day is all that is
good and fair.
It is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on yesterdays.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Why Accepting Differences Matters

Yesterday, President Obama came out in favor of letting same sex couples legally marry. The so-called evolution of his opinions on the subject matters to me for a reason – it echoes how people have come to accept autism.

You see, I skipped doing my usual Autism Awareness Month posting this year. I’m more than aware of autism – my 11-year-old son has it. There’s really no avoiding it, even for people who are just meeting him in passing. But the ones who get to know him are the ones who have to make the changes in their mindset. We can’t change his autism, but we can change how we view it. That’s what acceptance means. Even if something initially makes you uncomfortable, or isn’t what you’re used to, you learn to deal with it. The people who’ve learned to accept Number One Son have learned to love him for him. But they had to get to know him first.

We were in the waiting room at the doctor’s office a few weeks ago. A group of children were sitting around watching a movie together. After a few minutes, one little boy turned to NOS and asked him why he was wearing his PJs. NOS replied that he always wore them. (Truth – we gave up asking him to wear other outfits except when the situation dictates more formal wear. It helps with his sensory issues – he’s more comfortable and therefore happier.) The little boy then told NOS that he was annoying.

Annoying? How, by being different? Really? That poor kid. He’s in for a real shock once he sees more of the world. For the record, I told him to stop being rude. There was no parental intervention on his part – for all I know his parents orphaned him in the doctor’s office. With the kind of wait we had and as much of a little shit as that kid was, not sure I’d have blamed them.

On the other hand, NOS’s classmates clearly love him. Last week, he earned his first good citizenship and study habits award. He came home, positively glowing, and told us that not only did he receive a standing ovation but he got more applause than any other kid who had received an award that day. How wonderful was that? His peers are well aware of how different he can be, but they still accept and nurture him. The differences aren’t that big when you get to know someone.

Which brings me to President Obama’s reasoning for his change in opinion:  “There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents, and Malia and Sasha, it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective,” Obama said.

The better you get to know someone who is different from you, the less the differences seem to matter. It’s a huge change in perspective. My son’s classmates have made that change. The little boy in the waiting room hadn’t.

To me, Autism Acceptance Month represents the tip of the iceberg. By learning to accept someone for who they are, not who we want or expect them to be, we enrich our own lives. Letting a person be who they are doesn’t take away from us being how and who we are. That is, unless we decide that it does.

Opponents of letting gay people marry are doing just that. How does letting a same sex couple marry take away from my marriage? It doesn’t. It’s not a different kind of marriage than straight people experience. Does NOS’s autism takes away from our “normal” family life? No, nor does it affect anyone else’s family life. It’s ours, not theirs. It doesn’t make our family better or worse. Just our own.

We have a saying in our family – different houses, different rules. It tells the kids that what goes on in other people’s homes does not affect how things are in ours. Just because their friends do something doesn’t mean they can do it too. Marriage should be the same thing. BUMD and I married each other. That’s our business. It is not our business who someone else marries or divorces. Their relationship doesn’t change ours, or make it more or less legitimate, any more than my child’s best friend’s bedtime affects her bed time. Different houses, different rules. Let people decide for themselves.

Interlude: Goodness, I sound like a Libertarian. I started as a Republican, morphed into an Independent, then started leaning toward being a Democrat. I might be taking this Gemini thing a bit too far.

So here’s the thing – just let people be who they want to be and live the kind of life they want to. If it’s not hurting you, why do you care? So what if they’re different? My son is very, very different. He’s also quite wonderful. Are you telling me that his difference is bad? Probably not, because the trend toward dealing with people with autism and other disabilities is all about acceptance. Can’t hate on them anymore. Minorities are out too.

So now people have to find someone else to hate. Cue the Gays.

“Homosexuality is against the Bible, it’s an abomination.” I call shenanigans on that one. Quit using the Bible to justify your prejudices. There are too many things in the Bible that have already been rejected for people to legitimately hold it up as the final word on any sort of behavior. It’s a wonderful guidebook, but it cannot be taken as a word-for-word guidebook. Unless, of course, you decide to, in which case most people are doomed for eternity. Have fun with that.

Stop the hate. Stop treating differences as a bad thing. Acceptance is love. Love one another.

Defending Marriage

A little over 20 years ago I called my parents, bubbling with the news that I’d just gotten engaged. My mother’s response was dismay. My father’s? “No, you’re not.”

That comment broke my heart. Here I was, happy and in love with a wonderful man – why couldn’t they be happy for me?

Of course, they had their reasons – my brother and sister had both recently broken off long engagements. The engagements had only taken place after equally long relationships. My boyfriend and I had only been going out for three months. How on earth could we possibly be ready to make a commitment to be married? We surely didn’t seem to be up to the task.

Marriage is valued in my family. It symbolizes commitment, love, honor, permanence, FAMILY. It’s nothing to be trifled with. I suppose, in their own way, my parents were trying to protect me from making the mistake of dishonoring that institution. I’m sure they were trying to protect me from getting hurt. The thing was that in trying to protect me from being hurt they were hurting me. They were telling me that I wasn’t old enough, smart enough, strong enough, committed enough to be married. They thought I was rushing into it. They didn’t want me to trifle with marriage, because it is such an important commitment.

Honestly, I don’t know exactly why they objected, because we’ve never really discussed it. What I have done is tease them about how wrong they were. My boyfriend – now my husband – and I are still together. We didn’t get married in a church – and by law – until the year after we got engaged. But we got married to each other just a few short weeks after our engagement; a move that I’m sure would’ve horrified my parents had they known. They would’ve disparaged it, so I didn’t tell them at the time. My husband and I made our commitment to each other and then jumped over his sword. To date, my mother still refers to my husband as her favorite son-in-law (never mind, Jeff – we love you too!).

To some, our first marriage ceremony might sound silly. But the commitment we made that day was as important as the one we made the following year for legal purposes. At least we had the opportunity to make it legal. So many people who are also in love, who are also committed to each other and their relationship, don’t have that opportunity. Why? They want to marry someone of the same gender instead of the opposite one. That’s the only difference.

Gay marriage opponents claim they want to “protect” marriage. Against what? Millions of heterosexual people have disrespected their marriage vows in so many ways. Because the Bible says so? The Bible says lots of other things the opponents cheerfully ignore. Why then is this part so important?

I’m sure those who oppose gay marriage think they are doing what’s necessary to ensure that the institution of marriage remains highly valued. But what they are doing is cheapening it. They’re putting a price on it – either you marry someone of the opposite gender or you’re not worth it. Love doesn’t have a price – it just is. Only those in the relationship can define that. Commitment is important, but who is to say whether that commitment is valuable enough to rate being “married”? My parents would’ve denied my marriage 20 years ago. 20 YEARS! Our commitment to each other was and is real, even though they and probably many others doubted it. So too is the commitment of so many same-sex couples to each other and their marriages. Why should they be denied the right to marry? Why should their hearts be broken by someone telling them that their love for each other isn’t important enough for them to be able to get married?

To marry someone is to promise to love, honor, and cherish them as long as you both shall live. To attach a caveat that says, in effect, that such a relationship is only possible between two people of opposite genders renders the entire institution worthless, without value.  Love knows no boundaries – or does it? Until marriage is available to anyone, it does. Love is too important for that. I should know – 20 years ago today I married my Bestest. Love won for us. I hope others can win too.