In the Name of Love (Pride Month)

The Uses of Sorrow

Someone I loved once gave me 
a box full of darkness. 

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift. 

–Mary Oliver

It’s been two years since I lost my family. 

Two years since I’ve seen my mother, or talked to my brother. 

Two years since I visited Alabama for the last time, only to find out that I’m no longer allowed to be around my nieces. 

Two years since I had to tell my child that the cousins she was looking forward to playing with would no longer be in her life or mine (my child was 5 years old).

Two years since I learned that I would no longer be able to walk into my childhood home, as my brother and his family moved into it with my mother.

All of this happened in such a startling way, it’s hard even now to piece it together. 

And of course, none of this started on the weekend we visited. This was the last incident in a long line of them. But it’s where that story ends, and another one begins.

We planned the trip at the end of summer, right before Zora started Kindergarten. We rented a condo with a nice pool so the kids could come over and they could all play and swim together. All of this was communicated to my mother and brother, and agreed upon. 

Unbeknownst to me, my brother and his wife had been fighting about us visiting for weeks–my sister-in-law having decided we were no longer allowed to be around “her kids.” 

Yet no one told us. We drove 7 hours to Alabama, completely unaware of what was about to happen. 

You might be wondering WHY at this point. Why would someone cut off a family member? What egregious, horrible thing had I done? Was I unsafe to be around children? Had I hurt or neglected any children, including my own? And why in the WORLD did no one let us know this was happening? Why would they set us up for this kind of devastation?

Some of these questions are impossible to answer and I’ll never understand it. 

But ultimately, all of this comes down to who I love. WHO I LOVE.

Not who I hate. Not what I’ve done. Not my character, my actions, my behaviors. Who I love.

So let’s talk about love for a minute. On that drive back from Alabama two years ago, I grieved hard and tried to make sense of what happened. I thought about–and talked with my wife about–the concept of love. What is it really? For me, for us?  

I can’t define love for anyone else. I can, however, choose to only let in what feels like my way of loving and let go of the rest. And for me… 

Love is wanting others to have the privileges that you have. 

Love is my friends and community dancing at my wedding, because they know how hard my wife and I fought for our relationship and the tiny being that was already growing inside of me.

Love is dear friends offering to help us create a family, and those dear friends BECOMING our family in the process.

Love is my adopted mama showing me how to mother through her nurturing, her protectiveness, and her occasional kick in the ass when I’m off the path. 

Love is medical providers honoring my family, respecting us and acknowledging out loud that they are here for us. 

Love is friends who are stand-in siblings, fierce and loyal, ready to form a circle of protection around us with a moment’s notice.

Love is kind neighbors who only care that you’re a good human and let you borrow their tools and drop tomatoes at your door. 

Love is a school that flies rainbow flags and celebrates diversity, because then your child knows and feels her family’s worth and belonging.

Love is marrying an incredible human–regardless of gender identity or sexuality–who shows up every single day and reminds you that you are worthy of love, connection and belonging.

Love is a child who knows she’s safe in her family–who knows that even though some people don’t think her family should exist, they do in fact EXIST and she proudly proclaims it without any hint of shame or fear.

Something died for me that day, on the drive back to Asheville. All the years I spent trying to prove my worth to my family, trying to twist myself into knots and belong…it all, finally, started to fade away. 

I realized that by holding onto people who couldn’t possibly love me, I wasn’t truly letting in all the love around me. 

My sister-in-law didn’t know it, but she handed me a gift that weekend. 

I could write a novel about the ways love has saved me, over and over again, ESPECIALLY since that weekend.

That picture you see at the top of this post? My daughter drew that months after we returned from Alabama. Those were the words she wanted to make sure her teachers wrote down.

Love is love is love. And the kids are alright. 

Love and Pride,