|Protesters outside the Supreme Court
On Monday I burst into tears in the breakfast cereal isle of my local supermarket. That’s not something I ordinarily do. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, and outside the sun was shining on a balmy June afternoon.
I’m not given to public displays of emotion. No Irish person is, unless you’re a sean-nos singer, or Donegal wins the Sam Maguire, and even then you’ll probably be politely asked to restrain yourself.
I had been looking for Weetabix on the shelves, a familiar Irish cereal. It looked like they were out of it. I must have made some show of it because an old lady actually asked me what I was looking for and I told her.
She walked away. I kept looking.
Irish people generally prefer their strong emotions to be served up in poetry, or in nasal ballads about successive invading hordes, or in down to the wire All-Ireland matches where Kerry is finally looking vulnerable.
But public bawling gets you the stink eye. A man who can’t keep the lid on his head or heart is not to be trusted, we feel.
It’s because we’re raised to think unbridled passion usually comes from bottles. That’s why you’ll be disapproved of if you start weeping in public.
Oh that one? He did something that’s among the cardinal sins of the Irish -- he lost the run of himself entirely.
Largely I agree with all this. I find ostentatious displays of emotion suspect.
And I am known as one cool, collected kid. Misting up in food isles is really not how I roll.
But moments later I was staring at the big yellow Weetabix box this old lady had taken the trouble to find in the nearby ethnic section. She handed it to me with a nod. Then she turned away, a big smile on her face.
Most people want to help, I reminded myself. In my chest I had a mild whooshing sensation, the kind you get when your car drives at speed over the egg-box topography of Co. Mongahan roads.
I had a good reason for it. I have lived happily in my little Irish American neighborhood here for 12 years. It’s a typical Irish life.
On the walls in my apartment are a St. Brigid’s cross and photographs of my First Communion outfit (it was a sunny day, I wore a red tie and scowled in every photograph).
There are pictures of my ninth and tenth birthdays (again with the scowling). My First Communion (no scowls this time, perhaps because I’m wearing the purple velvet jacket that I picked out myself).
Then there are a lot of old pictures of the friends in my teenage years too. I’m half smiling in those pictures, but I always look a little tense I think.
It’s from the burden of secrecy. In those years I look like someone who’s peering at life through the wrong end of a telescope.
My mid-twenties are a completely different story. I’m laughing uproariously in those pictures. I’m pulling people toward me. You can see there’s a weight that’s lifting.
In lots of them I’m pictured with the person I have lived with very happily for the last 15 years. The scowling child and the watchful teen are long gone.
But a little of that old tension has found its way back into my life recently. Since March of this year, when the Supreme Court took up the two cases that will change the course of my life, and every gay person’s in America, I’ve been a little stressed betimes.
Between the Defense of Marriage case (DOMA) and the Proposition 8 case, one of which bans gays from marrying at the federal level and the other at the state level, it’s been a waiting game for us to hear how they’ll rule.
Imagine if you wanted to ask your girlfriend or your boyfriend if they’ll marry you, but first you had to win a court case for the right to actually get married, to start your life, and avail of all the legal rights and entitlements, including the right to immigrate here. Would that bother you?
Would you be content to wait, with your life on hold, and all your options on hold too, year after year after year, as the court hemmed and hawed over your request -- and behind that over your worth as a human being?
The toll these two cases are taking on tens of thousands of people’s lives is very considerable. I awoke with the sunrise on Monday because it was a potential decision day for the court to rule. I found I couldn’t sleep at all.
When I reached the kitchen my partner was already up drinking coffee. Our lives, our future together, are riding on this.
That’s probably why I was suddenly thrown for a loop by that old lady’s thoughtfulness. It was just this simple little thing that happened one afternoon. But somehow it made me realize how little it actually takes to make a difference in someone’s life.
Just five supportive signatures from the justices would change everything. Sign here.
And I realized how easily it could all go south this week, too. Flip a coin. Take a number. Go to the back of the line again. Wait.
And I stood there in the middle of the day in the middle of the supermarket in the middle of my life and I wept.