Years ago my Aunt Vesta came to stay with Joe and I in Toronto for a little while. When we got the call that she was coming we were panic struck. We were not 'out' to many of my family, it was still in era in Canada where acceptance and welcome of gay people was not the norm. We had a one bedroom apartment. We lived in the gay area of the city. Most of our friends were gay. Even the art we hung on our walls were done by gay artists active at the time.
What were we going to do?
I knew Aunt Vesta from growing up. I knew several things about her. She had the best laugh. She was easy to be around. She was a patient listener and thoughtful in what she had to say. And, best of all, she had a wicked good sense of humour. This is to say, she was a nice person. But, we'd had 'nice people' turn on us instantaneously upon finding out that we were a couple. We knew that we couldn't predict how people would react. We knew that love of family isn't always there as greeting cards proclaim.
We had to tell her.
We decided to let her get settled in. Didn't want to tell her on the ride from the airport. The closer we got to the 'telling' the less we wanted to have to tell her. But it had to be done, there was no way we'd be able to de-gay our lives like many of our friends did when parents visited. While waiting to tell her I was reminded about how nice a person she was, how she was able to embrace us with her warmth. I didn't want to lose that, it was just too valuable.
We had to tell her.
We took her out for dinner, figuring a public place was safer, and we told her. She nodded after having heard our announcement and said, "... is this supposed to matter to me?" In six words she acknowledged us, accepted us and welcomed us into her heart. Then, we were done with it. Over her visit we went to gay bars, she insisted, and she charmed everyone.
Aunt Vesta, and her reaction, set her apart from so many people at the time. In fact, it sets her apart from so many people now. She had the depth of understanding that people were simply people. All different, all the same, all to be respected.
After she left we felt a hole in our lives.
There was something I had to tell her.
I hadn't been able to articulate to Aunt Vesta how much it meant to me, and to Joe, to have her embrace us and our relationship. I would have started crying and I didn't want to be maudlin. So I waited for a couple of months and then I called her and we talked about telling her.
I could tell that she was touched by what I said but I could also tell that she didn't understand the big deal. She didn't understand what a big deal it was to have a heart as big as hers was. She didn't understand that we'd been prepared for her rejection and what it was like to anticipate the worst but get the best of someone.
This is now Pride Week. I've been thinking of some of the people in my life who helped me along on the way to pride.
Aunt Vesta was one of those who stood on the side of the road and pointed to a world wherein it was possible to be loved, not tolerated, but loved instead of rejected. To a world where difference was just difference, nothing more, nothing less. To a world where one's heart was free to love as one pleased. I always knew that my heart loved differently, that's how people define who I am.
But it was amazing to see how Aunt Vesta loved differently too ... she loved inclusively.