Lessons in Love
Lesson I: Beauty
The first wedding I attended was one in which I was a flower girl.
I was five or six years old, dressed in white lace, hair freshly pressed in an updo with little tendrils framing my face. A crown of silk flowers interlaced strands of my hair.
I was really cute.
I was nervous too. So nervous that I distinctly remember only casting flowers out of my basket to my left side. I was afraid that if I alternated hands, as I was instructed to, I’d drop the basket, trip, fall, and ruin the entire ceremony.
I watched as the bride, a beautiful blonde, kissed her groom, who was tall, dark, handsome and black. I had no idea that I had just witnessed two people marry who less than 10 years prior would have been thrown in jail for doing so.
Lesson II: Fear
But I’d learn how powerful the concept of loving someone outside the norm could be soon enough. A few months later, in the same town, Fayetteville, North Carolina, I’d see another scene that would shape me. I saw the charcoal frame and ash of a burnt cross in a neighbor’s yard. The neighbor was a black U.S. Army serviceman married to a white woman he’d met on tour of duty in Germany.
Today, I can still vividly recall the fear the cross instilled in all of us as well as I can remember the stench.
It was 1976.
These two events, within months of each other, shaped me profoundly.
Lesson III: Shame
Add to that my own heritage: My parents are both black. But my mother is fair and appears to be white by those who are not as adept at discerning ethnic features as those of us from most parts of Louisiana. (Explaining the whole One Drop Rule is another post entirely.) When we’d drive through small towns (especially in Mississippi), police officers would frequently pull us over and check my parents’ identification to make sure that my father wasn’t driving around with a white woman.
I became so paranoid that people would think my mother was white that I’d avoid my friends when we came close to running in to them in public places.
The message I received over time was that loving someone who was different was a bad, bad thing.
Lesson IV: Rebellion
But I’d always admired the courage of those who refused to follow norms, especially when it came to love. And I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak. And perhaps that’s part of the reason I’ve married outside of my own ethnicity, more than once, and given birth to a beautiful child, who represents what I believe is the future, both literally and symbolically.
And it’s also the reason I’ve always supported others who just want to love whomever they choose. It’s why when I see my GLBTQ sisters and brothers (citizens, y’all, with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!) striving to have their own unions recognized and protected, I stand with them in support and solidarity.
And I admire their courage: the courage to love.
It’s a powerful thing. And it will triumph.
(Dedicated to my favorite cousin.)