About a year and a half ago, right after Amendment 1 passed, I wrote about walking through Walmart hand-in-hand with my boyfriend at the time and the woman who changed everything–who was, in that brief moment between aisles, the unending image of hope.
It’s ironic how life, the year turned by, returns us to where we began–wholly changed, mind you, but wholly the same.
I came home for Thanksgiving last night with a list of assignments and no clear plan to get to all of them when I know I’ll spend vast amounts of my time home visiting with family, chatting with special people in my life, and otherwise sleeping late and eating a lot: two key notes of lethargy (and, apparently, lots of stress). So one of my assignments is creating a visual representation of a poem I plan to recite for my poetry final (“The Wings” by Mark Doty) and to make my vision come to life, I had to buy: paper, glitter, and feathers.
Anyways, I join my family for a trip to Walmart and I’m despising that I have to go (Walmart? The day before Thanksgiving? Was I crazy, or just insane?), but when we get there that changes: After almost getting hit by a car backing out of an illegal parking spot, we cross the street and get to the door and there are two men, holding hands, and I think back to last year, this same Walmart, and those same words I ended on:
…that final test: When they smile and realize we’re all the same. Just like that woman in Walmart. Randolph county. Deep south.
So I smiled in their general direction, but I didn’t guess they saw, or didn’t care. They walked on ahead and I got my niece in a cart (she was helping me shop today) and set out. I tried to catch up with them. I wanted to say thank you. Acknowledge them somehow like that woman last year had acknowledged me. It was my turn to pass along that hope, that affirmation, that everything will be okay, even if right now it doesn’t seem that way.
I felt my heart racing. I felt my hands shacking.
“Excuse me,” I said, and when they looked at me, I added, “Have a good Thanksgiving.”
It wasn’t what I wanted to say.
But what had I wanted to say? Thank you–but thank you for what?
Maybe for being brave. For showing the world you love who you love and you’re okay with that, that whether they approve it or not, we’re here and we belong as much as they do.
Maybe just for being in love. Thank you for showing me what love can look like. As I walked through Walmart today, I did not hold the hand of my boyfriend, yet on some level I wished I could have–and maybe someday I will. So thanks for showing me it still happens: that guys can still hold their hands to express their love.
But neither of those explanations really capture what I wanted to say. It puts too much emphasis on the tangible, the political, the personal, and neglects those two words I really wanted to say: thank you.
Does gratitude need to be qualified, or can we just be thankful?
In mathematics we can make a simple claim that something exists and leave it there. We can say, okay, somewhere in this universe, this criterion is satisfied–we need not know the element that fulfills it, but we know it’s there. This sublime faithfulness in proof is at times elegant, at times wondrous, and at times confusing–but it doesn’t matter. It’s there. We know it. And we embrace it for its simplicity.
Why can’t we humans do the same?
There is thankfulness, I wanted to say, an unending depth of gratitude I feel for you right now–do I need to quantify that? Do I need to tell you why? Do I need to explain what cannot be placed into words or spoken or shared with strangers?
All I want to say is thank you. That’s all I wanted to say.