Saturday, May 03, 2008
I’ve been in Boston this weekend to bless the civil marriage of my dear friends Sheri and Lois. They’ve been together 44 years.
Yes, you read that correctly. Forty-four years.
They were (finally) married by a friend who is a Justice of the Peace on the 27th of March in a civil ceremony in Boston where they have lived for the past 40 years in a lovely five story brownstone in the South End.
Lois is 78 years old. Sheri 69 years old. In many ways, both women are ageless because the love they share is timeless. It knows no bounds. It has endured all things, believed in all things, hoped in all things, rejoiced in all things,
I first met them in February of 1977. Ms. Conroy and I had left her two children in the care of her former husband and had taken my two children and “run away from home” to Maine. Two months later, the children were kidnapped by my former husband.
We were scared. No, make that terrified.
I know this is going to be hard for some of you of a certain age to understand or even believe, but I swear this is true:
In 1977, it was the rare women who could obtain a line of credit without a man – her husband or father – as a co-signer. Indeed, in 1981, when I spoke with my attorney about legally changing my last name, the law in Maine required that I have my former husband’s ‘permission’ – even though I had, at that point, been legally divorced from him for 4 years.
Furthermore, we didn’t know any other lesbian women. For all we knew, we were the only two in the entire world – at least, lesbian women who were like us.
We certainly knew that we were not what our nursing books described as lesbian women: aggressive, terminally angry, pathologically ill women with gender role confusion who were pathetic and perverted creatures in need of life-long psychiatric care – if not a prefrontal lobotomy.
The church didn’t paint a rosier picture or offer even a modicum of hope. We were sinners beyond the redemption of God, who offended the Sacred Heart of Jesus and committed an unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit.
So, there we were, two women alone in northern Maine who had just started low-paying jobs as nurses, abandoned by our families, desperately missing our children and even more desperately in need of affordable legal assistance. We were motherless children and mothers without children.
Perhaps now you understand the reason for our terror.
Into our lives came Sheri and Lois. I had found an advertisement in the back pages of an old Ms. Magazine for D.O.B. = Daughters of Bilitis. We had never heard of this organization, much less knew the location or significance of Bilitis. I only knew what it said in their advertisement: that it was an organization for lesbians. There was no phone number listed, just a P.O. Box in Boston.
I sat down and wrote a three page letter, pouring out my heart and soul, asking for advice and counsel - and help. Within two weeks, my phone rang. It was Sheri, inviting us to Boston to stay with her and her partner and to set us up with an appointment with a lawyer who was experienced in defending lesbian custody cases.
The next week, Ms. Conroy and I headed down to Boston to stay with a woman and her partner who said they were lesbians. We had never met any other lesbians. We had no idea what to expect. Our internalized homophobia only added to our terror.
Sheri and Lois opened their home and their hearts to us. They listened to our stories which broke their hearts and they wept with us. They understood our terror and helped us transform that energy to the courage and strength we needed to face the challenges ahead. They told us stories about other lesbian women who were beginning to fight the system and winning custody of their children.
They gave us hope. They introduced us to other lesbian women who became our role models. Their stories were profiles of courageous, brave, bold women whose beauty shone in their passion to end the oppression and prejudice they earned as women who dared to speak honestly and openly of their love for another women.
And, they loved us. They loved us as sisters of the same Spirit of Incarnate Love. They loved us as mothers of the same God of Creation. They loved us unconditionally, steadfastly, faithfully. Those whom they have helped over the years are legion.
The blessing they received from God for their love blessed them to be a blessing for others. So, to bless their civil marriage was simply to acknowledge what was already there – God’s unconditional, faithful, abiding love made manifest in their love for each other and their love and service to so many others of God’s creation.
In a sense, the service was a blessing of the original blessing of their love.
We gathered in the living room of our dear friend Penny whose partner of 32 years, Nancy, had died of breast cancer 11 years ago. It was sacred ground for all of us.
We read the story of Ruth and Naomi. Sheri and Lois read poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Rumi. Their vows, taken from the New Zealand Prayer Book, were these:
I take you to be my partner in life.
All that I have I offer you;
what you have to give I gladly receive;
wherever you go I will go.
You are my love.
God keep me true to you always
and you to me.
Together, we prayed: Jesus, do for Sheri and Lois as you did in Cana of Galilee. Take the old water, their busy individual lives and turn them into gospel wine. Amen.
It was all pretty simple and simply beautiful. We celebrated with a fabulous banquet of Indian food, and then feasted on homemade Greek pastries and hot tea. Soon, too soon, we had to get back into the car and head back home to New Jersey.
It's always amazing to me that there are those who find marriage between same sex couples a sign of cultural and moral decay and these services of blessing "a threat to the sanctity of marriage."
All I see is the exercise of a constitutional civil right and an acknowledgment of the discernment of God's presence in this relationship and covenant.
I give thanks this night for Sheri and Lois and ask you to say a wee prayer for them - for the gift of their love and the gift of love and hope and faith they have shared so lavishly with so many others.
"And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."