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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Original Blessing


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."

6 comments:

jadedjabber said...

This is such an amazing story. Thank you for sharing. It certainly makes me re-realize how grateful I am to the "matriarchs of the movement" who, because of their courage, made the world a safer and better place for me today.

There is a new blog. I was wondering if I could post this onto it, or another version of it.

It is closetsnomore.blogspot.com. you can email a story you want, or any questions to closetsnomore@gmail.com

God bless,

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I would be happy to have you post or link this story so that others might be encouraged and find hope. Just be sure to give it proper attribution - and correct any typo's you find before you post it. Thanks.

the cajun said...

Two incredible stories woven together seamlessly. One frightening, the other oh so loving.

Thanks for sharing.

I need a tissue.

Kate Morningstar said...

Now I'm giggling. Writers! "and correct any typos you find ..."

Elizabeth, that's a wonderful story -- it would have been very easy, understandable, for Sheri and Lois to have hidden. Their openness, willingness to share their experience and their love; it's inspiring. Thanks for telling us.

Eileen said...

far as I can see, marriage isn't being done in by homosexuals who want to marry...it's being done in by heteros who DON'T want to get married or stay married.

To save the institution of marriage, why oh why, would we want to discourage any of those who want to do it?

I'll never for the life of me understand this. No. I. Won't.

klady said...

I'm late here but thanks so much for sharing this. It's brought tears to my eyes, for all sorts of reasons: the love and commitment of Sheri and Lois, the support and comfort they gave to you and others in times of need, and the history of the struggle women have gone through, even here in the U.S. in the late 20th c., that many of us either tend to forget or were too young to have known firsthand.

It also reminds me of a recent post by jcf at Jake's - about being a person rather than an issue. I'm so tired of LGBT and women's and children's rights being written off as "issues" -- kind of a la carte items in the vast conspiracy to advance the (insert word of choice "liberal" "progressive" "gay" "lesbian" etc.) agenda. It's all about people, real live (and someday dead and mourned) individuals who could be or are our partners, family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. They have names and faces and lives that need to be cherished and respected, which also means in our day and age that they have, yes, the right to love and be loved. Why is this so difficult to grasp, to see in the eyes and persons of a loving couple like Lous and Sheri? May the scales fall from all of our eyes.