I did it!

It's been funny working with Andrew's Round Table. We have been talking about the same stuff for well over a year and it just doesn't seem like I have anything new to say. So last night, I gave my speech (I will share it at the end) for MN United for all Families to rally the troops and I have realized that the hard part has only begun. We HAVE to talk. I guess it just feels like old hat to me.  I am kind of sick of myself. BUT...after my speech, an older gentlemen walked up to me and started discussing growing up in rural Iowa. He said, "I am going back to my 50th class reunion and there are now five classmates who have come out. I can only imagine what life must have been like for them 50 years ago." And a good friend told me that my story was boring in the best sort of way.  Gay is gay and my family just kept on moving. Sadly, we have had more drama in our lives than we needed, but ousting a family member for who they are was not part of it.  So those little comments, those observations by others, those connections that people make to people in their lives when they hear my story is what this is all about. As sick of my own talking as I am, I will keep at it.  

Here is what our local paper had to say about the event. 

By the way, thanks mom and dad. Your gifts keep on giving.

My speech:

I am so excited that tonight is finally here. It is an honor to speaking for Winona’s Chapter of Minnesotan’s United for all Families.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Lisa Gray and I am here because I am a part of Andrew’s Round Table, an organization that was formed shortly after Andrew Wilfahrt, cousin to my husband, was killed while serving in Afghanistan on February 27th, 2011. He was among the first acknowledged gay soldiers killed after the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Jeff and Lori Wilfahrt, Andrew’s parents, failed to prevent the amendment from passing despite their tireless efforts in both the house and senate.  Feeling raw and hopeless, they reached out to people they had met along the way, people who had been touched by their story, and asked if we could do something. Was there room in our state for some people to speak out on behalf of those who no longer could, such as Andrew, or those who simple felt threatened? Specifically, they wanted straight people to talk, to show that this amendment matters to us as well.  In Andrew’s honor, we wanted to promote an intelligent, hopeful conversation about the inclusion of all people in our society. Everyone in our organization has a story. Everyone in our organization has been touched by a loved one who is gay, bi-sexual, or transgender. And everyone in our organization wants as much for our loved ones as we have for ourselves, which includes the freedom to marry.

But my journey to this moment began well over twenty years ago in a small rural community in northwest Iowa where I grew up with my 3 siblings including two brothers, and a sister, Angie.  I watched Angie live through “coming out” to people who never spoke about being gay. Night after night during our teen years, my sister would cry as we prepared for bed and ask, “What is wrong with me?”  Usually, I would shrug in a noncommittal way because while I knew she was extremely shy and struggled to fit in at times, I never really saw anything that was wrong. In the mid- 1980’s in rural Iowa, the only knowledge of what being gay meant centered around AIDS. I can’t honestly tell you if I ever uttered the word gay while in junior or senior high school.  Angie would follow me to the same college though it wasn’t the right place for her. She would enter a deep depression, drop out, and find herself at the Art Institute of Chicago where someone invited her out to a well-known gay club. She looked at them as if to say, “Why would I want to go there?” Their reply? Well, you’re gay, aren’t you? It was a moment of self-discovery- the synthesis of all that finally made sense.  But the largest hurdle beyond that personal admission was the one she needed to make to our parents.  After Angie confided in me,  she told mom who responded exactly how my mother always responds when she hears news that is unsettling. She said, “Oh Angie”.   There was no disappointment in those two words….just concern.  “Oh Angie” meant  she wanted her to be happy and safe and that this road would be hard. But, “Oh Angie” also said I love you and I will be here for you no matter what.

But what would dad say? He was prone to using colorful, racially derogatory language at times. As my sister and I had gotten older and went to college and learned the ways of the world, we got bolder by calling him on it, but neither us could ever recall discussing gay rights or issues. We just didn’t know what he would do or say. So, understandably, Angie asked mom to tell dad.  Angie and dad were close in the way that anyone is close to my dad. She can talk tractors and engines and cars and weather with the best of the Iowa farmers-- but how could she talk being gay?
When I look back, how my father responded to Angie’s news was nothing short of a miracle. This man, whose views on the world seemed limited especially at that time, took the news from my mother in silence.  After an hour or two, he did this:  He picked up the phone and called Angie and said, “Hey Ang? I love you whatever you are.” Nothing changed in their relationship- they still talk on the phone when bad weather strikes Minneapolis or northern Iowa or when her truck isn’t running properly. Bill Gray, my dad, gave Angie, and ultimately all of his kids, the gift of total acceptance and love and that is how I earned my spot at this event.

 I have seen and felt that love is indeed love from the most important people in my life, and I want nothing less for everyone which is what this kick-off event is all about. We want to encourage others to share their stories. 

For every story that is shared, more lives are validated and we chip away at the root of fear, which is the basis for this amendment. For every story that is shared, we alleviate the willingness to dilute a document designed specifically to protect as many people as possible. For every story that is shared, fewer will become threatened by semantics. Love is love and amending the constitution to define marriage as something that only occurs between a man and woman is the exact opposite of love.

 I know my dad wasn’t thinking about Angie’s freedom to marry back in 1990, but he would proudly march her down the aisle today in any state that would allow it. We can move in that direction, but first we must tell our stories and explain that voting No protects everyone. Voting No embodies what it truly means to be Minnesota Nice.

If my father, a man with limited life experiences in a small rural community understood total acceptance well over 20 years ago, then surely the state of Minnesota can reach the same conclusion in 2012.

I am getting a little amped up about this event.  I've sent off a draft of my speech for approval and am waiting to hear back about the tweaks I need to make.

I think it would interest any students I have had in Intro. to Public Speaking to know that I still get nervous when I speak.  Whether it is for The Book Shelf, a demonstration for my students, in a church, running a workshop, or in front of the estimated 150 people we hope to see next week, I get a little edgy. In fact, I would feel greater fear if I didn't feel at least a little rush of anxiety. Here is what will likely happen:  I will read and re-read, talk out loud and pace, and then read some more, make my final changes, and then come Wednesday, I will go for it.  I will stop eating about two hours prior to the event, use the bathroom multiple times and have a water bottle nearby. The days of fretting will be over in 5 minutes. The next speaker will go, there will be (hopefully) raucous cheering, and little Winona will begin to make their place in this state-wide effort to oppose the amendment defining marriage.

I am but a tiny part of something I think is a big deal. So my job is to keep my nerves tiny, too. Wish me luck!

A good man is not hard to find.

Leslie, wife to my baby brother, recently lost her mother. It was completely unexpected. Her mother was 57. She went to bed on a Friday night and did not wake up.  The day they chose the casket was on Leslie's birthday, and they buried her mother on my mother's birthday.

At the wake and funeral, I expected sadness. I expected tears. I expected to see someone blown away by grief. I got all of that, but what I did not expect was to feel pride. I felt pride for my baby brother, pride for my parents, pride for my older brother and my sister, pride for my nephews.  Neither my sister nor my older brother like crowds and small talk. But they were there. They stuck through the wake and the funeral and I know my baby brother noticed. We all doled out hugs and stepped in for little boys (my four nephews, ages 7 -14) who needed a lap and a hug when mama just couldn't do it anymore.  My dad held the hand of his oldest grandson, 14 year old man-boy Colton, with such grace and ease that it made me cry. My mom, along with her ready lap, bought jumbo packs of lifesavers for all of my nephews anticipating that tiny surprises can lighten a mood and indeed, they did. Colton hovered around his grandpa, a man who attempted to receive the hundreds of mourners while accepting the loss of his beloved wife, holding his arm to steady him when his grief became too much. A day later, grandson and grandfather napped together after the exhaustion of the emotions set in. This man-boy, my nephew, was a sight to behold.  

And my baby brother did just what I suppose people think a husband should do, which is to support his wife and family in every possible way during such a horrible time.  But he did it with such a light touch and fierce love that it could be hard to watch. The boys had never seen their mama wracked by grief and my brother shouldered them all. He stepped away from his work for a week or more without a backward glance. This shouldn't be a big deal because he is doing what he needs to do, but it is more than that. He did it because he wanted to.

As a parent, it is easy to second-guess yourself. It is easy to wonder how things will pan-out, if the mistakes you think you made will manifest into something you live to regret. But from my birds eye view, I think my parents did pretty well. They raised kids who show up for each other, they produced kids who understand not only what love is, but what it looks like and how it moves through the world in an active way. And we all got to witness a son, my baby brother, as someone who isn't afraid to cry or let his own sons cry. They raised a man who honors what his wife needs and moves the heavens and earth to make that happen. They taught us that men feel as much as women and act accordingly.

In my world, a good man is riding a lawn mower in a hat and shirt designated for the task, painting a tractor John Deere green, listening to a patient, tossing a ball, reading a story, giving a hug, looking up the Latin names for bugs, casting a fishing line, playing a recorder duet for the 16th time, bottle feeding lambs, holding a grieving wife.

As painful as these days have been, gifts we can't yet know are being created. Little boys are growing
man-muscles, the most important one being their heart.

School's out for the summer....

We just shut off our cable and I have stripped my phone of games, I am vanquishing the Wii to the basement, and am hoping rain only occurs at night. Though a good frolic in a summer downpour never hurt anyone. I think I can remember it being fun. At least that is what I will tell my Things when I suggest, yet again, that they get outside.

Wish me luck.

I don't know what I am doing or why exactly. I think it's because I want my kids to be able to settle themselves without a screen. It's hard.  I, too, will work to manage my own habits.  I will write and try to post, without lurking about on-line as I normally do. I guess my little experiment is about seeing if we can handle talking to each other more and finding ways to enjoy each other that aren't technology-based.  I maintain people and relationships will always be more important than computers and being an expert in one area will definitely NOT help you with the other if it is always the default. I would like to think my Things could wait in the dentist's office without a tv to watch or a game to play on my phone. I would like to think my Things could sit in the back of the car without screeching at other when technology isn't available to distract them.  It's likely I am dreaming because my Things fight...and nitpick and they don't appear to really like each other. It seems I am setting myself up for a rough ride.   

I give myself a week.

I have a pool pass, little trips planned, chore lists compiled, art supplies on hand and bicycle maintenance complete.

I don't pray in a traditional sense, but it is likely that you will hear me mutter about God a lot in the next few days.  I won't use His name in vain, but it may border on PG-13.  It's also likely that I will find out a bit more about how moderate alcohol consumption is good for my health. Or theirs. I have a feeling that could work both ways.


I sometimes take breaks from reading the news. It makes me feel sad, frustrated, overwhelmed and useless. And so that is when I look around for all the little things, which often add up to the biggest things.

In-laws who are willing to take my son fishing, friends who literally do anything I ask of them, a husband who is as playful and as curious as a kid, a baby doll who tells my friends, "My mom is quite generous",  a son who thanks me every morning for his breakfast and who lugs his own private library to the toilet because he just can't tear his eyes away from the pages, parents who can still laugh even when life has been anything but kind to them.

It's crazy the good I have. It's so crazy that I can feel awestruck by my good fortune.

But then I also feel weak and ineffective because it feels like no matter what I do, it will never be enough to make it "good" for everyone.  Maybe this is why I always feel restless.

Two things happened as I was pondering all this at The Book Shelf. I was "working" if you call chatting about books, fielding phone calls from customers who recognize my voice, and getting teased by patrons of the cafe work.  A young man who is leading the charge in Winona against the marriage amendment Minnesota will be voting on in November came in and heard the ruckus. He caught someone saying my name and walked over. He was wearing a bright orange t-shirt that said "VOTE NO" in November.  

"I like that shirt.  I look good in orange. Where did you get it?" I asked.

He told me and then introduced himself and we talked about the work I did for ART (andrewsroundtable.com) and he said, "So, your Lisa Gray."  Fun and funny to feel known without knowing someone.  I was invited to a planning meeting that will hopefully rally Winona troops who want to defeat this amendment and just like that! my restlessness settles just a bit.

An hour later I am invited to read an original work at an open mic night that will be held after a published poet reads and discusses her work.  On that I have not settled, but sometimes the invitation is enough.

I keep this in mind, often. Sometimes, a simple invitation is enough to light a spark. Easing into the maybe of something new, more, different is a light unto itself.  Emily Dickinson's famous poem "I dwell in possibility" has always called to me.  

But time is ticking.  I best not dwell too long.