I was tired. Joe looked determined as he made his way through the auditorium towards where I sat at the podium. We had a drive ahead of us and wanted to get going. I saw him coming. Just before he arrived, I felt, more than heard, a gentle voice calling my attention. I turned to look into worried eyes. "I wonder if I could ask you a question about a very personal matter." I felt time pull with the force of gravity. I wanted to be on my way. I'm not good with questions at the end of a lecture day, I'm tired from expending energy all day, my mind has trouble focusing on anything but getting out the door and on the road.
But there was worry at the back of her eyes.
When she realized we were about to rush off, she apologized and stepped away. I felt the moment grab me by my shoulders and hold me in place. I arranged for Joe to take the stuff off the podium, briefcase, notes, Thermos and cup out to the car. I asked her what was on her mind.
She told me that all day she had thought about something that she had done very recently. One of her children has a friend who she is close to. "He calls me 'Mom'," she said with real warmth and pride. Then she told me that this fellow came to her, confused about his sexuality, needing to talk to someone, thinking he was probably gay. She knew that what had happened was an act of trust and a testament to the relationship he had with her.
Since speaking to him, her reaction has weighed on her. She had been taken by surprise and spoke to him about his sexuality in the context of sinfulness. She knew she hurt him deeply. But she didn't know what else to say, she didn't know how better to react. She was confused herself.
That moment sent her on a personal journey. She read about how gay kids kill themselves when they find rejection in the world. She read about how one person showing love and support and acceptance can make the difference between life and death. She began to dig deep into her faith asking herself what she really believed. In her own heart, in her own mind, in her own relationship with God - she knew what she had been told to believe, but what did she believe? Her faith, she found, could withstand questioning. Her faith, she discovered, was mature enough to embrace, fully embrace, the idea of love.
She didn't want him to die.
She wanted him to feel her love, a deep love, that accepted him as made.
"What can I do now?" she asked.
"I don't know what to say to him," her voice was filled with worry, her eyes with pain.
I suggested she start with two words, "I'm sorry ..."
And that the rest would follow.
I laid my hand on her arm before she left and told her that I was so glad that we had spoken. That she had given me such hope. I love speaking to people who have the desire to be self-reflective, who have the desire to question themselves, who believe in a belief that wants to be and needs to be questioned. I told her that I was proud to have met her.
What I didn't tell her, is how much I needed, deeply needed, to meet her when I was a boy.
But that meeting her now, oddly, ministered to the part of me, that still needed to hear the love in her voice.