Our Finest Hour

In the wake of tragedy and in the face of intolerance, the United States had the kind of moment we didn’t think possible, and the kind of moment we absolutely needed.

What a time to be alive.

The roller coaster we ride on the way to the communities of freedom, equality and justice is a wild one, laid out a rickety track we appear to be building as we go.

Yesterday was a busy day. Fresh off a landmark Supreme Court decision upholding a crucial component of the Affordable Care Act, the robed warriors were at it again, ruling 5–4 that marriage is a constitutional right. Social Media erupted in rainbow-hued #LoveWins jubilation.

I think “love” is actually underselling what really won.

We didn’t give everyone the right to love. Love is a condition, it is not a right, it is not a privilege, it is a noun, a verb and an adjective that we careen in and out of — something we choose to engage in on behalf of, and in service of, another. This was not the SCOTUS waking up and ruling “You can love whoever you want.” This was bigger.

No, what we decreed as Law of the Land yesterday was that two humans can enjoy the same institutional benefits of a legal relationship, whether they partner up with a member of the same sex or of a different sex. What they said was not “love is love,” but “human is human.” Perhaps it’s not as romantic or as dramatic in writing or in concept, but it feels more basic, and and more profound. This country became the second republic in the world to state in official terms that they don’t just embrace us whoever we love, but they embrace us whoever we are.

We cannot always say the same about this country and its largely abhorrent tradition of railroading its Black populace. At the end of a week that saw an Apartheid enthusiast gun down nine African-Americans in a historical Black Christian Church, a man so deeply indoctrinated into the culture of white supremacy that it is hard to believe any appreciable progress made since Reconstruction reached whatever hamlet he’d been raised in, it became easy to reimagine the snake from the Gadsden Flag as an Ouroboros — chained to its own appetite yet eating itself to death.

And then a funny thing happened. We took the hardest look in the mirror we’d taken in decades.

I saw a lot of us think critically and speak empathetically about the very real, disturbing tradition of racism and exploitation in this country. A lot of deeply-reasoned, passionate pleas for understanding and community. And I saw a lot of agreement, as these are universal truths — a human gospel that love is important and equality and freedom are everyone’s right.

We saw the devil out there. Somewhere in the depths, hiding, preserving the status quo and preventing progress, killing and keeping our brethren down. We saw his face again when we least expected him, and yet it always feels like he always arrives right on time. Our prose and punditry have not persuaded him … or hadn’t.

And so our attention turned back through time and our sordid past and centered on that goddamned flag — the Stars-and-Bars, the American Swastika. Devil as fabric.

Our symbols are our history books, our mirrors and our doctrine. They show us the evil inside of us. They connect us, they inform us, and they galvanize us. I think we’d just finally realized that our symbols matter more than we think they do. Sure, racism won’t end because we take down a flag that hadn’t stood for anything but wretchedness in over 150 years. But that is exactly why we needed to take it down.

Speaking of symbols, you could argue that the President’s position is largely a symbolic one — money and institutions seem to have a death-grip on this country with President acting as caretaker at most and figurehead at worst, but if his role was symbolic in Charleston on June 26, 2015, it surely represented all that is best in humanity.

Barack Obama bears a helluva weight. He is our first Black President. He will always be our first Black President. He will largely be remembered symbolically. So when he gave one of the most rousing, poignant and pointed ruminations on race, dignity and grace this nation has ever heard (in a way that only our first Black President ever could), and then cleared that bar when he became the first Black President to lead a Black congregation in “Amazing Grace” after a week in which the Battle Flag of the Confederacy finally retreated for good, it became clear that muting the cries of oppression and inequity is no longer a workable option. Our country is still deeply fractured, but there are folks sifting through the chards with super-glue in hand, and they’re being led by the man at the top.

I know we woke up this morning and did not cure all societal ills. Racism, sexism and bigotry still run as wild as the old west in pockets of this nation and in the blood of our instutitions. This country still preys on its underprivileged, its tired and its poor. But a large swath of humanity appear ready to hold out their hand, even as they’d learned to make a fist with with their heart. I hope we are a large enough contingent. I hope we’re properly armed for battles and wars against hate and oppression that don’t pay off in such grand fashion. I hope.

For what we are at our core — I think — beneath gay and straight, man and woman, black and white, beneath even human … we are a collection of love and light, an ocean of souls lapping against each other like waves.

I like to believe that as we join together and burst apart we are a nebulous molecular brilliance that shines brighter when we all shine a light for each other.

I saw it today in Washington. I heard it today in Charleston. I witnessed it first-hand amongst the people it mattered to most right here in Austin, Texas, a blue dot in the middle of a red state, where we spray-paint “Black Lives Matter” on statues of Confederate generals and where we handed out marriage licenses at the County Courthouse.

From the euphoria of our city’s vibrant LGBT district to the revelry of our iconic Sixth Street to the live music on Red River. To coming home to what looks like a dumptruck of skittles overturned on the Internet. Lovers, mothers, brothers and friends. A shared joy that radiated as bright as any beacon we hold high. A rare day (and a desperately needed one) that, however briefly, allowed us all to feel unashamedly good to be alive.

Who are we to put out anyone’s light? For it is theirs, and all of ours together, that makes us truly glow — one bulb out in the string and we all go dark. We are alive and our time is short. But if we shine a light for others to follow, we leave a legacy and live forever.

It was a great day … a day to celebrate. Our world shines a little brighter, in as many colors of the rainbow we shine in.

And tomorrow begins a new day for us to shine on.

What a time to be alive.

Written by

Essayist and storyteller on life, liberty and the battle for happiness. Several million served. Words at Human Parts, Forge and PS I Love You. IG: heygorman

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