The healing power of diversity made manifest
“I learned my politics from my children,” Mary-Ellen would proudly proclaim to me with a smile and a twinkle in her eye. She’d sit up a little straighter, shoulders back, with the kind of self satisfaction you feel right after you vote for your candidate and think, “There’s one more for my side.”
Mary-Ellen was 78 years old and living in the Florida Keys when I knew her, and she became a dear friend. In her lucid moments she was sharp as a tack, and could regale you with everything from tomorrow’s weather forecast to last night’s sports commentary; from today’s daily special at the local hole-in-the-wall to the date of her dog’s next vet appointment.
In the foggier moments of her struggle with Alzheimer’s, she displayed the usual mild-to-moderate symptoms: forgetfulness, confusion, verbal repetition, moodiness.
But even during those episodes she was often witty, mischievous and full of opinions.
The children she referred to were her four adult kids, ranging in age from 40-something to 50-something, who visited her often, even though they lived in different locales.
The oldest of three daughters was an intelligent, earthy woman living in Vermont with her husband and delightful 10-year-old son.
Next was the daughter in Atlanta, who holds a doctorate in education and is widely respected in her field.
The third child was a daughter in Washington D.C., a psychologist raising two kids with her successful attorney husband.
And finally, her son, the acknowledged black sheep of the family. He lived locally and was often known to be teetering on the edge of some small-town scandal, if not right smack in the middle of it.
When I knew this family, the daughter in Atlanta, a lesbian in her early 50s, had just come out to the family, and concurrently had begun a long-distance relationship with a woman who lived a few states away.
Despite the miles between all of them, this clan would get together frequently at Mary-Ellen’s oceanfront home for long weekends of spirited conversation, boisterous laughter, frolicking in the ocean, unabashed displays of affection, and multi-course meals featuring freshly caught lobster.
Significant others, including the new girlfriend, were always included, and neighbors would freely stop by to enjoy the merriment (and seafood!) .
Inevitably, after sunset, when the rowdiness would calm down and we’d be quietly sitting on the deck, listening to the waves and watching the fireflies, someone would ask, “So, Mom, how are you feeling?” And, ready for either a gem of wisdom, which Mary-Ellen had in abundance, or a dementia-induced comment that might leave us at the very least head-scratching and possibly deeply concerned, the spotlight would turn to the matriarch.
Most often, she’d toss us a gem. The spirit of her answer being, “I thank God for this time in my life. I am grateful that my kids are so successful so I can enjoy their success with them. I am grateful that we have a lesbian in the family so we can learn more and empathize with the plight of others. I am grateful for my grandkids so that I will live on. And I’m grateful for my son, whose mischief keeps me on my toes. This is a wonderful life.”
This from a woman who described her debilitating condition as “chunks of my brain falling away.” Nevertheless, she chose gratitude whenever she could, and reveled in the diversity of her loved ones.
As we all know by now, in the historic ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional. Marriage equality is the law of the land and LGBT couples in every corner of the country will soon have the opportunity to marry in their home states.
My hope for you is that you pluck the gem from this monumental historic moment: Diversity is everywhere, it is here, it is the rainbow-colored fabric that makes life interesting.
If we can revel in that, if we can “learn more and empathize” with each other, as Mary-Ellen put it, then we can grow together, instead of apart. This is our wonderful life.
Until next time: “Love is love.” — Sara El-Amine, Executive Director, Organizing for Action
Dr. Rick Pimental-Habib, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, author, minister, and educator in private practice in Chattanooga. Contact him at DrRPH.com, visit his wellness center at WellNestChattanooga.com and follow his daily inspirations on Twitter: @DrRickWellNest