Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Dark Day in North Carolina

[illustration by Maurice Sendak from "Where the Wild Things Are"]

Go over to the NPR site
and listen to the wonderful interviews Terry Gross replayed last night with the late Maurice Sendak.

You might have to click around to hear all the interviews. It's worth it. Indeed, I'd rather you just listen to them than even come back and read this, but if you do...

Mr. Sendak was by any measure a person who wonderfully fulfilled his gift of life. He was a beloved and renowned children's author, who wrote books that children loved, but with great depth and truth, which adults also perceived and appreciated. He was a person of rare generosity and kindness. He embodied towering empathy, particularly for children. At one point in one of the interviews he talks about how children frequently did not understand why he was asked to autograph their books, and found the experience upsetting. Either he was stranger taking away their favorite book, and or (worse still), someone who was going to write in their book--something they had always been told not to do. He recounted a particular case of a "brave boy" who shouted, during the experience, "hey, don't mess up my book!" Sendak had to take the father aside and praise the boy--show the dad that what his kid did was actually seeing the world aright--reasonable, connected to reality--not something that was embarrassing to the dad.

Well along in life, and when the attitude towards gay and lesbian people in the United States had softened to some degree, Mr. Sendak "came out." During these interviews he talks about his partner of 50 years, a psychoanalyst who died four years ago. He talks about grief, about losing so many friends as he grew older (a fate anyone who lives a long time will endure). Even with his partner dying, and himself in very ill health, Mr. Sendak undertook a new book. He said that he had many younger friends who came and helped him, and who seemed to think he was wise. He laughed at that. As well as empathy, and a huge heart full of love, he had humility.

And yesterday North Carolina stuck a knife in the heart of love, empathy, and humility. We voted to make only a "marriage" between a man and a woman legal--indeed, "constitutional," in North Carolina. My guess (based on some legal opinions I've read and heard on the air) is that this constitutional amendment will actually injure thousands of families, including thousands of children, since there are of course many relationships of "marriage" which do not involve just one man and one women--and many of them involve children.

This is nothing particularly new in North Carolina or in the country. According to Rachel Maddow, this kind of referendum has occurred 33 times before yesterday, and lost all but once. The prejudice and bigotry America holds to its bosom towards gays and lesbians has never been seriously addressed. Precious few teachers and leaders have actually tried to lead ordinary Americans to the light on this, no matter what they themselves actually believed. And of course far too many teachers and leaders simply share the hate and bigotry. In a Fayetteville NC church just last week--leading up to the vote yesterday--a minister told his congregation to "smite the limp wrist if it appears in your family." When there was something of a media uproar about his sermon, his congregation responded with justifications--"he's being taken out of context," they said.

Mr. Sendak talked at length about his childhood, and about how his parents were desperate for a quiet, well-behaved little boy. He said his brother Jack saved him--Jack became an ally in an otherwise oppressive life. And so Mr. Sendak managed to blossom--to start writing and drawing his wonderful books. They made him famous and reasonably well off. They made us happy, and better people. But this gift did not stop North Carolinians from giving Mr. Sendak one last passing kick, because he was in the end of it nothing more than another faggot.

What a sad, sad day for North Carolina. One can only hope that, upon reflection, North Carolina voters will realize which party stood with the brutes and bigots. Mr. Biden just this past week said he had "no problem" with two people of whatever sex having a marriage. I believe he's a Democrat.

Update: Digby has a very good piece on the amendment posted today:

Be sure to listen to the interview with the NC legislator. Rust indeed never sleeps.