mothers, compassion for

Cast of Family Ties from a later season. (From...

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Through the first three-quarters of Meredith Baxter‘s autobiography, Untied, I found myself extremely frustrated. Here was an actress whom I thought had everything going for her. She was best known as Elyse Keaton, Michael J. Fox’s TV mom on “Family Ties, an 80s sitcom. But sometime before that she had been one-half of the handsome couple in Bridget Loves Bernie.” David Birney played her spouse, and became the real thing after the show ended.

What was disappointing about Baxter’s real life story is that through 3 failed marriages, she was always the victim of her husbands’ verbal, emotional, mental and in Birney’s case, physical abuse. Where she might have projected a woman-in-control on the small screen, she was anything but, in her personal life. Yet in one important area she was in charge. Able to get regular acting gigs, Baxter became the “bread-winner,” and wound up paying alimony to her ex-husbands.

The source of Baxter’s inability to be an equal partner in heterosexual relationships, for she did recently out herself as a lesbian, was because her mother had opted out of that role when Baxter was very young. 

 

Craftsman-style bungalow in North Park, San Di...

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I can remember coming home from first grade, walking through the front door of our little white Craftsman-style house on Indiana Avenue in South Pasadena, and calling out, “Mommy, I”m home!” 

No answer. I was confused; her car was out front. I stood very still.

“Mommy, I’m home!”

Still nothing. Then I remembered.

“Whitney?”

“Yes, dear?” her musical voice rang out from the middle bedroom, where she kept a vanity table at which she’d do her makeup.

Although I believe she had no idea about the psychological impact this might have on her children, now that I’m older I realize that Whitney was probably just giving us what she got. Whitney’s mother was born Martha Mae Wilkerson–my brothers and I called her Memaw. She was a scrappy, tough, smart, and wily survivor. She wasn’t the soft, fuzzy type; she didn’t coddle Whitney and she didn’t coddle me. …married five times…Memaw would leave her kids behind, once with a couple of former missionaries and another time with her elementary school teacher. …It wasn’t until the fifth grade that Whitney discovered drama class…From that day forward, Whitney realized that no matter what school she was in, the drama department would become home…(and) that the nearest thing she had to a real family when she was growing up were the casts of the plays that she appeared in.

AA meeting sign

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It took Meredith Baxter the better part of her life to sort through the mess it had become. Having drifted into alcoholism, she eventually sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous upon the urging of the producers of a particular TV show she’d been working on. But even after attending the group’s meetings for 10 years, Baxter hadn’t engaged in the self-examination process recommended by the program, until a good friend intervened.

Carla noted that…I’d not laid to rest many of the issues that brought me into the program in the first place ten years before, the primary issue being my mother! Drinking had been but a symptom of my alcoholism; I used drinking to solve my problems, but my problems were caused by my thinking, my selfish, self-centered, self-seeking, self-pitying thinking, and the destructive feelings and resentments that resulted. This way, I developed and preserved a belief system that filtered all information through a warped prism of being unwanted, unloved and unlovable.

Baxter set about replacing her old belief system with a new one. She found clarity in acknowledging that she deeply resented having to call her mother by her stage name instead of mom or mommy, and that she didn’t acknowledge her children as hers for a long time, and that she left them in the care of their stepfather while she pursued her acting career.

In order to help herself heal, Baxter decided that she needed to understand her mother.

…figure out who she was, learn what kind of mothering/role modeling she received, what did she want that she didn’t get, what were her disappointmens in life and how did she deal with them? And why did she make the choices with her children that she made? 

After answering all of these questions for herself, Baxter found great relevance in the words of someone speaking at an AA meeting.

A woman was talking about our parents as wells and that we were wired to go to our parent-wells for nurturing and sustenance. Many of us found our parent-wells were empty, but they weren’t empty at us. They were just empty.

Meredith decided that while she felt she was the target of her mother’s empty well, there was no basis in fact to support it. Instead, the supposition was based upon personal feelings.

As a followup to her discovery, Baxter needed “to learn to have compassion for (her) mother’s empty well, to accept (her) mother’s limitations and forgive her.”

Well, as soon as I started thinking of ways I had disappointed my own children, I quickly had a much better perspective. I thought about being too fearful to protect them from David, times when I traveled and worked when they probably needed me, times I left them with nannies, times I, like Whitney, had chosen work over my kids, times when I’d had too much to drink to be useful to them in any way–the list is endless. I could honestly say, however, that I did the best I could given the tools and information I had at the time, and therefore I had to allow the same for Whitney.

What I came away with was a sense of understanding Whitney and appreciating her in ways I wouldn’t allow myself to before. In truth, she gave me the very best she had. What I thought of it at the time is not important because I wasn’t in a position to know.

Finally, Meredith Baxter enumerates the ways in which she has been a better parent as a result of her own mother’s failures. “Many of what I think are my best traits as a mother were developed as a protest to what I had experienced with her.” Where Whitney never spent time with her children, Meredith was sure to be with her own youngsters when she wasn’t working, “making breakfasts, packing lunches, doing carpool, play dates, homework, projects, school breakfasts, soccer games and practice, gymnastics, baseball games and practice, swim meets, piano, violin, track meets, open houses, teacher meetings, performances.” And she was thankful that she loved being a mother, who loved doing it all. For that Baxter credited her mother for leaving a legacy, of which she had no knowledge. 

I found this portion of the book the most befitting my own experience. Like Baxter I had to let go of painful occurrences with my mom as I was growing up. What I didn’t understand as a youngster, I understood only too well when I became a wife and mother. Furthermore I’ve had the love and support of my husband for 40 years, and counting. While my mom never remarried after becoming a widow at age 30, pretty much shouldering her burdens alone. I had only one child for whom to care, my mom had nine. She had serious health issues all of her life, like diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis. And they only worsened as she got older, added to which she also developed Alzheimer’s. I’m able to see to my health on a regular basis, because I have a spouse who provides a comfortable life.

Parents do the best they can with what tools they’ve been given. Rather than find fault, we can try to do better with what we’ve been given. But if at times we fail, and we will, we should be prepared to forgive, ourselves and others, and show compassion, knowing that we can always try again.

for moms…huge hugs…hugmamma.

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“just go with it,” and we did

My daughter convinced me, at the last minute, not to see “Black Swan.” I knew it was “dark,” and so was prepared for a Stephen King style thriller. But I wasn’t aware there was raw sex thrown into the mix. My daughter’s words were “raunchy,” “out there,” and more to the point, “sex between the 2 main actresses.” I might have stomached such scenes in my early 20s, when hormones were raging. But not so much into my “golden years,” and definitely not in a packed theatre. Yikes! I definitely didn’t want to hear the heavy breathing of strangers seated nearby. Double yikes!!

More disturbing to me, however, was the need to depict Lesbianism in its most damning, stereotypical imagery. Just when strides are being made among that community to show themselves to be upstanding citizens like their heterosexual counterparts, a much-hyped film with an Oscar for Best Actress, regurgitates the bad press that should remain ancient history. Been there. Done that. Don’t need to go there anymore. Was there a real need for explicit sex scenes between the 2 women? Did we need to remind people about their homophobia? Might the gay community have been spared the potential for a public relations setback? You who have seen the film will have to answer that one. I’m speaking “blind,” and it’s only my opinion.

Cover of

Cover of Cactus Flower

Opting to seeJust Go With It instead, turned out to be a happy surprise. Adam Sandler is not a favorite of mine, but after seeing him in “50 First Dates” with a definite favorite,  Drew Barrymore, Sandler is “growing” on me. Not until the credits were displayed did I know that the show was a remake of an oldie, but goodie,Cactus Flower.” Filmed in the 70s, I think it was a career booster for Goldie Hawn, but I only had eyes for the great Ingrid Bergman, and ears for the dead-pan humor of Walter Matthau. It’s good I didn’t know earlier that this later film was a remake. I might’ve spent the evening making comparisons. Instead I thoroughly enjoyed “Just Go With It” on its own merits.

Nicole Kidman at Cannes Film Festival 2001

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I’d forgotten that I’d read in a review that 8 weeks of the film were spent on the island of Kauai. Seeing the green, lush beauty of a Hawaiian island brought huge smiles to our faces. Since it was the backdrop for most of the film, my husband and I obviously never stopped grinning, except when we were laughing. And seeing both Nicole Kidman, in a supporting role, and Jennifer Aniston do a pretty mean hula was an added bonus.

But the scene that brought tears to my eyes, and a lump to my throat, was a closeup between Anniston and Sandler. Watching her face as she listed things which she loved about him, I felt as though I were looking into the eyes of a good person, not just an actress. Never far from my mind, whenever I hear her name or those of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, is the pain Anniston must have endured throughout her marital breakup, and even years after the dissolution. The media scrutinized her every look, her every move, her  relationships, her breakups. While the hurt may have shown in the probing paparazzi photos, Anniston said very little. And she was probably entitled to say a lot.

Having seen Jennifer Anniston only a handful of times in films, and maybe a few dozen times on television, I was noncommittal one way or the other. But tonight I came away feeling like she’d be a good BFF, not for me obviously, but for someone who travels in her celebrity circle.

a full thumb’s up for Jennifer…and half-a-thumb for Adam…hugmamma.

a child’s “truth,” a lesson for all

It’s unusual that I write back-to-back posts about Oprah segments. But I’ll venture away from the norm because today’s show spoke of her relentless efforts to educate her viewers, numbering in the millions, to the gay and lesbian dilemma. If I remember correctly, Oprah has dedicated more than 100 segments of her talk show to the cause. Her goal has been to encourage gays and lesbians to own their truth, reveal themselves and live their best lives.

Among many who have spoken their truth about homosexuality, sitting alongside Oprah on her show, were Olympic gold medalist diver Greg Louganis,

Latin singer Ricky Martin,

and more recently country singer Chely Wright. Today’s segment also spotlighted viewers who had “come out” in their own lives to family and friends, as a result of seeing celebrities do so on Oprah’s talk show. Perhaps the most unusual guest was an Indian prince who’d announced his homosexuality to the world, including his parents, several years ago as a guest on the show. He returned today to say that Oprah’s public support, especially in view of her own heterosexuality, did much to loosen the once hostile attitude toward him and others like him.

A gay daughter and her mom made the greatest impression upon me. They had visited the show before, when the daughter’s rebelliousness and the mom’s refusal to accept the truth were obstacles in their relationship, going forward. After that show’s conclusion, Oprah introduced the two to her chief of staff, Libby, a lesbian. She spent 2 hours explaining her own experience. Hearing of the woman’s struggles to accept her truth, the support of her family when she revealed her homosexuality, and the tremendous strides she made in her own life since, convinced the girl’s mom to finally learn to let her own daughter be who she is. That was a “lightbulb” moment for me!

I realized that whomever my daughter decides is her soul mate will be her choice. Even as a heterosexual, she will know who makes her happy and who fulfills her life. Parents of straight children are also guilty of thinking we know best. We forget that we’re thinking what’s best in our estimation, not theirs. It’s not easy relinquishing control over the course of our children’s lives, but we’re not exempt from dying, so we’d better let them get on with living, now.

a lesson learned, hugs for…hugmamma.

inspirational thought, from a mom who inspires

Wanted to share the following from my friend, a great mom of whom I’ve spoken in an earlier post. Katy is the CEO in her family, having weathered a divorce several years ago. Her 2 children have benefitted from her management style, one of unconditional love that, like many moms, attempts to fix everything. But God bless Katy, she does manage to “build castles out of sand.” Her daughter is a successful events planner for a retirement community, even as she faces ongoing health issues that would suck the life from most of us. Her brother, Katy’s son is continuing to resolve his health issues as well. Both siblings had set their sights on stage careers, the daughter as a ballerina, the son as an actor in musicals, and perhaps a director.

When her children lacked the energy, Katy sustained them until they regained their determination to look ahead towards another day, another sunrise. They are as remarkable as their mom. Despite her share of setbacks, my friend has discovered new horizons for herself. Katy’s on the verge of becoming a movie actress!!! Now living in California, she’s dabbled in theatre. It seems the play in which she’s acted, “Pink Squirrels,” is being made into a movie. Her part has even expanded, from a smaller role, to one vacated by another actress. So if you find yourself in a viewing of the film, watch the actress playing a Lesbian lawyer. She’ll be my amazing friend, Katy! 

So it’s with joy that I pass along another of my friend’s gems, the other being the youtube video of dance clips to the music of “Footloose.” Not one to advise others on how best to live their lives, Katy just does it by example. It’s my guess, she finds daily inspiration from the following. I hope you do as well.

We face magnificent opportunities throughout our lives, each of which is brilliantly disguised as an impossible situation.

 for a mom who inspires, a holiday toast!…and huge hugs…hugmamma.

“living la vida gay,” ricky martin

In his “heyday” Ricky Martin was hot, hot, hot! Then he disappeared. What was that all about? Years passed, and I forgot all about him. Seems he had a lot to figure out in his personal life. He’s gay. Now I understand. “Living la vida loca,” with guys might not sell records to straight audiences, or so he thought. It might have made me think “aw shucks,” but a singer who’s got great vocals and a ripped body, and moves as Martin does, needn’t have worried about me liking him as an entertainer. I move to the beat, regardless of someone’s sexual preference.

Upset that Barbara Walters asked if he was gay on national television the night of the Academy Awards, Ricky Martin sidestepped the question. He wasn’t “ready” to deal with the unrelenting attention the mass media would heap upon him if he “came out.” He chose to pick the moment, when he was ready to reveal the truth. Martin was still evolving into the gay man he has proudly proclaimed himself to be, today. When his mom hugged him after only taking a minute to digest his news, he knew it was time to tell everyonelse. So he wrote his memoirs.

“Ricky Martin: ME” was the platform from which Oprah interviewed him on her talk show today. In his autobiography, he told all, including his having been bisexual before determining that, in fact, he was gay. He’d had passionate romances with women, but one serious relationship with a man, for whom he would have sacrificed everything, convinced him he was gay. Older, perhaps wiser, the man refused to let Martin give up what he was obviously meant to do, entertain crowds who loved him. The singer decided his partner was not as enamored of him, as he was of the man. At the time Martin was 22.

His new love these days? Actually there are two. A surrogate was engaged to give Ricky Martin children, twin boys, as it turned out. Watching him parent the youngsters on a video, probably had women in the audience, and viewers on TV, wishing he were straight. There was no mistaking that Martin is an awesome, “hands-on” father. He changed diapers, he played “pat-a-cake,” he served up breakfast, he rode a bike, carting the twins behind in a special contraption, and he’s teaching his boys to speak Spanish. The luckiest woman in Martin’s world right now? His mom, for she’s got his heart, and the hearts of 2 precious grandsons.

Evidently, Ricky Martin’s celebrity status was a powerful catalyst in moving ordinary men to “own” their gay-ness. A man flown in by Oprah to be part of the audience, explained how the revelation convinced his own Hispanic mom to ask her son questions about his lifestyle, something she hadn’t done when first learning that he was gay. Standing at his side, for all the world to see, she shared a hug, and kiss on the cheek with her son.

While Martin is a proponent of gays professing themselves to the public in their own time, Oprah supports all gays stepping out together in a powerful show of support for one another. Admirable of her to suggest it, another thing for those affected, to do so, and face retaliation, each on his own turf, in his home, in his school, in his office, in his church, in the military, in sports, among his friends, in society.

What do you think?

hugs for ricky martin…still hot!…hugmamma.

loves “tchotchkes,” jonathan adler

This weekend’s Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled “The Anti-Depressive  Apartment,” about designer Jonathan Adler’s “kaleidoscopic New York digs…” Being an amateur, a “wannabee” decorator, the colored photos stopped me from immediately turning the page. Studying the details in each picture, reading the accompanying captions, and finally viewing each in its entirety, I decided Adler’s design was “over the top,” too much for my taste. I love eclectic furnishings, which he seems to as well. But we definitely differ in what we mix and match. 

A potter, Jonathan Adler’s home is filled with “tchotchkes:” a large, black  rhinoceros sits alongside a coffee table, atop which stands a pair of white ceramic dog sculptures, facing one another. On the other side of the coffee table, is an orange sofa. Resting on matching, white end tables on either side of the sofa, are a pair of lamps whose bases are busts of gold horse heads. A white, ceramic squirrel keeps company with books, on one of two bookcases against the back wall. On the top shelf are a pair of charcoal color, Egyptian-looking goat heads. The other bookcase sports a white, ceramic, duck, simple in its lines.

Decorator pillows complete the kitschy style. Matching, red with black stripe armchairs hold round pillows, one orange, the other teal blue. Both are inscribed with the word “pill.” Across the floor, on the other side of the coffee table is a black, heavy plastic chair with a tall back and plexiglass legs. A red, square pillow, a forearm with closed fist on its front, is outlined in black. On the sofa are two, rectangular, white pillows, trimmed in black with hands, finger pointing, as if toward one another. Between them sits a square, teal blue pillow, a peace sign emblazoned on the front in a dark-grey outline.

Other rooms in the decorator’s home are just as kooky. What’s beguiling is that Jonathan Adler’s career, as a highly sought-after interior designer, was one of happenstance.  

SEVERAL MONTHS AFTER SELLING a cache of striped pots to his first retail account in 1993, Jonathan Adler wondered why he never got paid–until, that is, the buyer informed him that he never sent in an invoice. Mr. Adler’s response: ‘What’s an invoice?’

Now founder and creative director of an eponymous home-decor empire, Mr. Adler, 44 years old, refers to himself as an ‘accidental entrepreneur.’ His privately held company now has 12 boutiques and expects to see a 50% increase in revenue this year. ‘It is all completely unexpected and it took a lot of work,’ he says.

 My take on Adler’s success? “Wha? Wha? Wha?” It boggles my mind how some people “hit it big,” and the rest of us are still trying to turn rocks into pearls, not even diamonds. I’m not even challenging his taste. After all everyone’s entitled, and he’s obviously acquired quite a following, which got him 12 boutiques, and full-page coverage in the WSJ. So who am I to talk? God bless him. No envy here, just wondering. At 61, I don’t have the energy to “hit it big.”

Watching the video below did not convert me to Adler’s decorating “genius.” On the other hand, it did make me a fan of his partner’s style. Simon Doonan, creative director of Barney’s New York, also uses eclecticism in assembling vignettes for the store’s windows. The look, which appeals to me, is edgier. I like edgy, kitschy, not so much.

Adler and Doonan make a great couple. A decade apart in their ages, they’re alike in their serious work ethic, their kooky tastes, and their unpredictability. They abhor “boring beige.” They’re both anal in their attention to detail. Adler indicating that getting the handle perfect on a teapot, can be tortuous; Doonan explaining that he edits and re-edits a column he writes, trying to get it exactly right. Completing their family is an adorable Norwich Terrier named Liberace.

I identify with these gay men, their eccentricities, their zaniness, their “joie de vivre,” their obsession to details, their need to “get it right.” And then there’s Liberace. A pet whose soulful eyes remind me of my Mocha. 

I may not see “eye-to-eye” with Adler as regards to interior design, but I do understand his anger with California’s change of heart in recognizing gay marriages. Doonan, his spouse, is more philosophical saying that they need to “suck it up,” and continue to “fight the fight,” keeping their eye “on the prize,” and maintain their resilience. I’m sure their attitudes reflect many in the gay community. As with couples who are straight, conversation should begin and end with who gays and lesbians are as people, not what they do in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

hugs for a couple trying to live their best lives…hugmamma.





putting a “face” on the “unknown”

Glad I stepped away from the keyboard to visit with dear friends last night. Because of them I overcame my reluctance to get gussied up for a fundraising event in the city. My husband knew nothing about the organization sponsoring the dinner; he didn’t know what the letters “HRC” represented. The hours slipped by quickly, as we listened and learned about the “Human Rights Campaign.” 

We’ve attended other fundraisers over the years, ballet balls, zoo events, symphony dinners, among others. At the ballet ball, I remember ending the night rocking to the deejay’s music on the dance floor. At zoo events, I thought it was cool to visit the butterfly house, and witness the jaguar feeding, afterhours. And at a symphony fundraising dinner, my husband bought me my favorite watch, which I wear every day. Unlike these, last night’s event had no gimmicks, unless one considers the guest speakers as the “drawing card.” If so then, in my estimation, they were the most relevant “gimmicks” I’ve ever entailed.

Washington’s U.S. Senator Patty Murray spoke of her genuine efforts on behalf of her constituents. She focused on 2 in particular, who wrote letters asking for  her help. One was sent by a young girl whose dream it is to proudly serve her country in the military, but isn’t allowed to do so while proudly “owning” who she is, because of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The other letter was written by a dedicated teacher of 30 years, who tried to help a young student suffering the harassment of peers after she “came out.” Failing to garner official support for the youngster’s plight, the teacher informed the girl. Three days later, she committed suicide.

In his turn at the podium Joe Solmonese, HRC President for 5 years, brought me “up to speed” on the organization’s efforts to achieve total equality for a segment of the population that has been disenfranchised for too long. I was especially impressed when he emphasized that they are NOT victims, that they will not be deterred in their efforts, no matter what obstacles they encounter as they campaign for their freedom and rights. In the evening’s program, Mr. Solmonese wrote, in part, “Our community’s voice has never been more influential and never have we had a more friendly audience in our lawmakers. With your support, HRC can make our community’s voice heard loud and clear.”

A Child Protection Social Worker, Janice Langbehn, related a moving story of “man’s inhumanity to man,” to coin a phrase from a long ago episode of “All in the Family,” where Gloria attempted to explain a simple truth to her family. While she elicited chuckles from the viewing audience, including me, Ms. Langbehn’s words resonated with both my husband and I. With her legal partner, Lisa, and 3 of their 4 adopted children, they celebrated their 15th anniversary in February 2007, by boarding a ship in Miami to cruise to the Bahamas. While waiting to sail, Lisa oversaw a basketball game the kids were playing. Within 20 minutes they ran to their stateroom to get Janice, telling her that Lisa was sick. Janice and the children made their way to “Jackson Memorial Ryder Trauma Center, where Lisa had been taken. When her family, Janice and the youngsters, arrived they were told by a trauma social worker that Miami and Florida were “an anti-gay city and state” and were not allowed to visit Lisa or receive any news of her condition. Despite securing the couples Medical POA required by the Center, Lisa’s family continued to meet with resistance, until Janice accompanied a priest who gave her partner the Last Rites. The children were also finally allowed a few minutes with their mom. But in the end, Lisa died alone on February 19, 2007. Since then Janice has publicly spoken on behalf of change to homophobic policies like those of Jackson Memorial. In April of this year, President Obama phoned Janice apologizing for “the treatment her family received and described the Presidential Memorandum he sent to HHS to direct Federal Regulations to allow same-sex couples the same hospital visitation rights as other families.”

What makes Langbehn’s story even more compelling is the dedication with which she and her partner committed their lives to helping children. “Their love and life together was defined by their care and passion for aiding special needs children. In 1992 they were the first openly gay foster parents in their county, fostering 25 children, 4 of which they adopted, and all with special needs due to drug and HIV exposure. Janice’s long history of social work and care for children began while employed with DSHS and the State of Washington as a Sex Offender treatment provider in a juvenile prison. She saw a need to intervene earlier in a child’s life and so became a Child Protection Social Worker. Janice completed her first Master’s in Public Administration in 1995 and in 1997 was accepted to the University of Washington Master in Social Work Program. In April of 1999, Janice was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. From 1996 until Lisa’s untimely death in 2007, the two were intimately involved in their children’s lives. They managed HIV appointments, taught first communion classes, volunteered in the children’s school and began a successful Girl Scout troop.” Janice continues to speak out as part of “the educational process that comes with the fight for equality.” To a standing ovation and thunderous applause, she was honored with the HRC Equality Award.

Introducing the final speaker of the evening, was a dentist who shared a childhood secret with us. He had always dreamed of becoming a figure skater. But he put aside his dreams, and fulfilled his mother’s dream instead. Forty years later, thanks to Johnny Weir, the dentist is taking ice skating lessons. Bravo!

The name meant nothing to me, until a video clip showed Johnny Weir in the spotlight, representing the U.S. at the last winter Olympics. He is a flamboyant figure skater, in his style, dress and makeup. He was not my favorite, so I wasn’t as impressed with his performance as I was with some of his competitors. But after hearing his story, I have more admiration for him, as a person. Starting late, he taught himself to ice skate at age 12 on the frozen ponds in back of the cornfields at his home in Amish country, Pennsylvania. With the love and support of amazing parents and younger brother, Weir “hopped, skipped, and jumped” his way into figure skating history, capturing the hearts of millions around the world (he is knowns as the “people’s skater”), and U.S. Figure Skating’s 2010 Reader’s Choice Award for Skater of the Year (Michelle Kwan Trophy). 

Weir makes no excuses for being gay, embracing his “fabulosity.” Having concluded that he wasn’t representative of the image of the U.S. Olympic figure skater, and would therefore not medal, he decided to do his best, for himself. So he brought to his dynamic performance 13 years of hard work, sacrifice and passion for his craft. When he finished skating, and stood up from a back bend, his eyes were met with an arena of waving flags from around the world. I understood his joy, for as a ballerina, my daughter strives to connect with an audience appreciative of her talent, sacrifice, hard work, and passion for her art.

I think in our own personal struggles to come to terms with life, we don’t see that others are also struggling. I’m guilty of such tunnel vision. It’s human nature to think there’s not enough time or energy to be stretched so thin. Some of us are more capable than others, depending upon our own circumstances of health, finances, and commitments. We needn’t all react exactly alike; we can’t, by virtue of our individual DNA. Perhaps what we all CAN and SHOULD DO, is “put a face on the unknown.”    

Senator Patty Murray, HRC President Joe Solmonese, Johnny Weir, the dentist, and most prominently, Janice Langbehn and her children, are the “faces” of the Human Rights Campaign. America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are no longer the “unknown.” I now know who they are. Each is someone’s child living on the periphery of society, “assigned” rights which are already theirs by virtue of their citizenship in the human race, and their birthright as U.S. citizens. I don’t feel their rights are mine to give or withhold. I believe they’re inalienable, as written in our Constitution. I am a spiritual person, a member of the Catholic church. I think religion offers us sound principles with which to live our lives, but I think we’ve succumbed to using religion as a weapon to pass judgment upon, and excommunicate, those who are non-compliant. I’m not God, and I don’t want to be God. As with Oprah, the job has serious responsibilities which I’m not equipped to handle. Better I leave it to the experts, God in his domain, and Oprah in hers.

I’ve been fortunate to know the men behind the “faces,” good friends we’ve known since moving to the Pacific Northwest. Leon and Ken made me feel comfortable and welcome, when I met them at the first gathering my husband and I attended at his boss’s home, 13 years ago. Before their arrival, I felt self-conscious and awkward, being a stay-at-home mom trying to mingle with career people. The 2 men were interested in knowing more about me, and soon we were joking and laughing like old friends. Through the years, our friendship has remained steadfast, and I’m able to relax in their company as soon as I see them. They’ve never had an “agenda,” other than to know that I’m fine. I always welcome that concern in friends, straight, or gay.

My friendship with Brent and Rick is more recent, although my husband’s known them for several years, because he and Rick are employed by the same company. Although I was acquainted with both men, I got to know Brent better when we accompanied our significant others on a business trip to Victoria, BC. As with Leon and Ken, I felt comfortable in Brent’s company because he made me feel my contribution to the conversation was valuable. Although he’s taking college courses toward becoming a social worker, I never felt like my 60’s college experience was arcane. In fact, Brent complimented my common sense approach to life. That’s music to the ears of a senior citizen! A smart man 20 years my junior is inspired by what I might have to say. Kind of novel in this day and age. Needless to say, I’m very happy to be in the company of Brent and Rick, 2 men with discerning tastes for quality of life for all, including the elderly.

Personally I know that I’m unlikely to be swayed in my opinions unless I can put a “face” on the “unknown,” whatever that might be. Rather than having someone force me to think differently, I’m inclined to change because of personal motivation. I don’t think any of us like being browbeaten into a decision. My husband and I made a contribution to the HRC, because last night we were educated about their worthwhile efforts, and because Leon, Ken, Brent and Rick are real “faces” for the cause of human rights.

Another real “face” is a nephew of mine who “came out” to his parents decades ago. He was a wonderful, young man when I knew him. He played the piano beautifully; he seemed a sensitive soul. Having lost touch, I learned years later that he’d contracted a near fatal disease. His partner at the time helped nurse my nephew back to complete health. He has shared his life with another partner for many years, adopting 2 girls who had been students in my nephew’s middle school class, several years ago. Before they became a family, the youngsters were in and out of foster homes.

Children are my concern, because of my childhood experiences, and because I wish all children would know the unconditional love and support to be who they are, and not what others want them to be. Our gay peers are intelligent, resourceful and hard-working. They will evince long-term change through their commitment not to return to the “dark ages” of society’s earlier days. We can either embrace the inevitable and co-exist, all striving to live our best lives, or we can maintain our isolation from certain segments of society, holding onto historical prejudices. It’s our choice; it’s our freedom. I choose, that others might enjoy the same freedom. I may have an island mentality about driving on freeways, and fear of black bears, but not in matters that are substantive. In these cases, I prefer to draw from the “aloha spirit” inherent in my native fibre, and welcome all as “ohana” (family).

hugs for conquering our fear of the “unknown”, by putting a “face” to it…hugmamma.