Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Bittersweet Happy Day

Today is a good day. It’s also a hard day for me, and I suspect for many others.

This past Thanksgiving and Christmas were tough holidays for me, being the first holiday season without my Reginald. Still, the burden was lightened a bit by the fact that I was surrounded by family those days, and I had many others wishing me well those days, because they knew those holidays would be difficult for me under the circumstances. Tougher still, on January 15, was our first anniversary since his death (not a wedding anniversary, since we couldn’t get married in this state, but our anniversary in any case). This, too, was made a bit easier because my parents made a point of taking me out to dinner, and because they made a point of trying to celebrate Reginald rather than trying to take my mind off his loss, which would have just made it worse.

Three days have been more unexpectedly hard for me since losing Reginald, as they’ve been happy days that have also underscored what I’ve lost and what he is missing: election day/night; yesterday’s Martin Luther King holiday; and today’s inauguration of Barack Obama.

Yesterday, on Martin Luther King day, I read a news article that nicely tied together that holiday with today’s inauguration of Obama.

As an aside, among other things the article reported on an interesting survey. Almost a year ago, last March, the surveyors had asked a sample of Americans whether they thought Martin Luther King’s dream (i.e. from the “I have a dream..” speech) had been fulfilled. At that point, 35% of white Americans thought it had been, while 34% of black Americans thought so. The survey was repeated sometime between the November election and now. Among white Americans, the numbers had increased to 46% now saying King’s dream had been fulfilled, while among black Americans, more than 2/3 (69%) now said so. I’m not exactly sure what to make of that, but it’s clearly interesting.

What most affected me though was a quote from an analyst, Bill Schneider, “Most blacks and whites went to bed on election night saying, 'I never thought I'd live to see the day.' That's what the nation is celebrating on this King holiday: We have lived to see the day."

When I read that, I broke down sobbing, as I did several times today watching inauguration coverage, precisely because Reginald didn’t live to see the day.

Yesterday and today have been good days. I spent part of yesterday reflecting on how Martin Luther King’s legacy has shaped my life. As a result of his efforts and the efforts of everyone else, sung or unsung, who was a part of the civil rights movement, I, as a white boy growing up in the south, was fortunate to not be deluged with (as much of) the racist garbage that poisoned the minds of earlier generations. Reginald and I were able to live openly as an interracial gay couple without ever encountering so much as a dirty look from any neighbors for seven years in Pensacola, Florida, and that as much as anything is a testament to how successful in some ways the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements have been in altering possibilities.

Still, I know how far there is to go on social issues relating to race, gender, or sexuality. If Reginald had lived to see election day, he would have been overjoyed at Obama’s election and the Democratic pick-ups in both the House and Senate, but, sensitive soul that he was, he would probably have been even more crushed than I was by the wave of anti-gay ballot initiative results across the country, from Prop 8 in California to the fact, much closer to home for us, that 2/3 of the electorate in Florida saw fit to constitutionally ban for gays something that we weren’t recognized as having rights to in the first place.

Today came terribly slow, too. Reginald should have lived to see this day – by which I mean both that it’s terribly tragic and unfair that he’s not alive right now but also that the events of today should have come much sooner. (The election of a woman as president of this country is long overdue, too, and I remember with happiness last year’s primary election when Reginald and I were faced with the wonderful dilemma of which “historic” candidate to vote for, neither of whom was or is perfect, but both of whom we felt were good candidates and far better than anything we’ve had in a long while.) Surely far too many people didn’t live to see the day.

Still, bittersweet though it is, this is a happy day.


Nicolette Bethel said...

Hear, hear, Robert.

My thoughts are with you this week.

Robert Philen said...

Thank you for your thoughts and well wishes.

Thanks too for the similar thoughts and sympathies a number of people have sent my way in recent times.