I'm supposed to be writing a sermon.
Tomorrow morning, I'll stand in front of a new-to-me congregation in a small church somewhere in Maine. I'll preach my "candidating sermon," a sort of ecclesiastical audition, the penultimate step in the hiring process. I've been waiting for this, training for this, for years--decades, actually. Then, after a question-and-answer session, (which sounds much better than "grilling"), I'll leave the room and wait while they vote, as a congregation, on whether or not to accept me as their pastor.
It's all pretty exciting.
And yes, I should be finishing that sermon, the one I've been writing in my head all week. Yet something else is tugging at my spirit's sleeve. Something else has wrapped itself around my heart and--this morning, at least--has garnered my attention.
At midnight, when the seconds ticked just past and the day--12/29/2012--officially began, Maine's marriage equality law came into effect. At Portland City Hall, couples lined up to acquire the first same-gender marriage licenses. Hundreds of others lined up too, there to support them and cheer them on, there to witness to their loving commitments, there to stand in the freezing cold under dark skies and be a part of history in the making. Earlier in the evening, a man who refused to give his name stood at the far edge of the plaza, shouting bible verses and singing gospel songs, bewailing the moral degradation of the state. By midnight, though, the miasma of his diatribe was effectively blown away by a trombone-toting bystander, who launched with gusto into the Beatles' tune, "All You Need Is Love." The gathered crowd joined in and took up the chorus, sending the Love, Love, Love echoing off brick and stone edifices and swirling up into the midwinter night air.
A local seamstress and fellow farmers' market vendor got in on the festivities as well. She and two friends formed a boutonniere battalion, crafting over four hundred in time to hand them out, free of charge, to waiting couples and well-wishers. Others handed out bubble-soap and rose petals so the raucously joyful crowd could fill the air as the first, freshly-married couples re-emerged.
I wasn't there--as much as I love the idea of history-making, the combination of late nights, icy roads, and upcoming professional presentations kept me home and found me under my own blankets long before the clock struck twelve. But this morning, as soon as the farm chores were completed, you can bet I went online to look for news, and grinned extra-wide to see the very first couple sporting--in all the videos and photographs--purple boutonnieres made by my friend.
It turns out, there weren't as many couples lined up as many people expected. But the licenses are only good for 90 days, and I imagine most Mainers--being practical, cautious folk--had the same thoughts The Piper and I have had regarding the challenge of winter travel for friends and relatives, the cost of out-of-season foods and flowers, and a general hard-won distrust of all manner of Good News. Remember, this is New England, where harsh storms weed out the fragile, the foolish, and the unlucky, gentle weather brings biting flies, and the "home team" didn't win a World Series for 86 years.
After reading a few news stories and looking through the photos, I was left mute and awash in the midst of my unsorted feelings. The people who married weren't flashy hipsters or svelte society types--they were parents and grandparents, local working folks like me who--also like me--hadn't dared to hope for a long, long time. They were wistful and reticent, even as the crowd cheered, shy as the press photographers vied to capture a glint of their rings. Mostly, they were people who had lived together and cared for each other year upon year, always without legal protection, always a step away from the condemnation of kinfolk and strangers. Now they were being welcomed into a wider community of support, a wider circle of protection. Still, I thought, maybe some had stayed away because of that very fear: the fear that, in light of recent public shootings, Portland City Hall might not be the best place to be.
Still, I celebrate. I celebrate my friend and her four hundred carnations. I celebrate the couples who walked up the steps together and came out to shouts of joy from an eager and joyous crowd. And I celebrate the weight that...slowly...lifts from my own wary heart. Today, all loving, consenting adults in the state of Maine are now free to marry. Sooner or later, with an eye towards our own hard-earned understanding of committed partnership and our own agreements on sensible scheduling, The Piper and I will make our way into that wider circle of freedom and protection. All over the state, in their own leery and cautious ways, folks like us are making similar plans. Yes, freedom--it's going to have a whole new ring.
Now... I guess I better finish that sermon.
(Photo swiped from K. Skillin. Thanks!)