Focusing on the Positives

Dr. Sue Gill reminds us that “Where you put your energy, that’s what grows.”

I am anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court decisions about California’s Proposition 8 and the constitutionality of DOMA. I am hopeful that we will soon be experiencing a real shift in the legal environment that parallels the changes that have been happening societally in the past few years.

As I watched Edith Windsor, the 83-year-old plaintiff in the DOMA case, speak after the oral arguments, I couldn’t help but wonder about the changes she has seen in her life. Edith summed it up this way, “To be honest, I never could have imagined that this day would come—the day that I would be ‘out’ as an 83-year-old lesbian suing the federal government. My late wife, Thea Spyer, was, and is, the love of my life. Although we couldn’t live openly for much of our relationship, we became engaged in 1967 with a circular diamond brooch that symbolized the rings we weren’t able to wear on our fingers. And we stayed engaged for the next 40 years, caring for each other, sharing all the joys and sorrows that came our way.” And now at least four justices of the Supreme Court actively supported her right to federal recognition of her marriage.

On a more personal level, I was genuinely moved to see my Facebook feed flooded with the red marriage-equality banner. Although I generally feel supported and accepted by the allies in my life, it does my heart good to be actively reminded of that support. I was especially moved when my childhood friend posted this on Facebook: “This Christian supports marriage equality.” I expect support from my queer and politically liberal friends, but when I find it in unexpected places, I feel like I can relax just a little more deeply.

On the other side, I was saddened to read a relative’s Facebook post, “standing firm on God’s word for marriage” between only a man and a woman. It hurt to read as some people tore into my Christian friend for her support of marriage equality. Apparently some people fervently believe that marriage between gays will lead to legalized incest. It’s hard for me to know that such attitudes exist. I was saddened to read about the terrible insensitivity of United for Marriage when staffers asked the transgender activist and the person advocating for immigration reform to be silent during the rally outside of the Supreme Court.

What are we to do when one set of messages fills us with hope, affirmation, and support, while another set of very loud messages continues to support intolerance, misunderstanding, and ignorance?

A very wise person recently reminded me that “where you put your energy, that’s what grows.” So that’s what I am going to do.

I carry the knowledge that most of my relatives will be deeply upset if the Supreme Court overturns DOMA, and I experience their genuine kindness toward me and my partner at family gatherings. I am going to remember their kindness. People are complex and flawed, and I am going to allow them room for that.

My partner and I recently went to Door County for a long weekend and noticed that people stared at us at most restaurants. Since there was no broccoli in our teeth and we weren’t acting strange, I have to believe we were being stared at because of our apparent queerness. I can get pissed off about that, or I can shrug it off. People stare when they don’t understand what they are seeing. I am going to focus on the joy of eating a delicious meal with my partner.

I have been deeply alienated by members of conservative Christian churches, but I have also been profoundly moved by people like my friend who boldly say, “This Christian supports marriage equality.” Some of my deepest spiritual healing has come from Mark Clinger at the conservative First Baptist Church in Madison. I choose to focus on the Mark Clingers of the world instead of those who spread hate in the name of God. I get to focus on whomever I choose.

United for Marriage and the Human Rights Campaign really screwed up in how they handled the transgender- and immigration-focused activists at the Supreme Court rally, and these organizations have done incredible work for queer causes. I am going to allow them room to make errors and appreciate the fact that the folks working for these organizations have done a lot more than I have in promoting equality.

I am coming to understand that most of my own suffering is caused by focusing my mental energy on things that are out of my control at the moment, and by focusing on the negative aspects of any circumstance. So today I am choosing to be grateful for the abundant privileges and freedoms that I do have. I am going to remember the many acts of kindness people have shown me this week. I am going to put my energy toward cultivating inner peace no matter the external circumstances.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Sue and her partner, Sheri, have lived in Madison since 2000. They keep busy with their two dogs, Frankie and Maslow. Sue is a psychologist in private practice and can be found online at www.madisontherapy.com.