“Two Degrees off Center” is a monthly blog by Rich Keys about the personal struggles, issues, and topics that speak to the LDS/LGBT experience. Sometimes it will be serious, sometimes humorous, but will always approach things from a slightly different perspective.
by Rich Keys
In the opening scene of the 1993 movie Falling Down, Michael Douglas plays an average Joe businessman trapped in a typical LA freeway traffic jam, stuck in the same spot for who knows how long. The close-up shows a fly climbing all over his face, able to do so because Douglas is not moving a muscle. He just sits there, his face as rigid as Mt. Rushmore. As the camera pans back, you can see and feel what he feels—a man increasingly stressed and driven to the edge by the everyday hassles of life, who is wound up so tight that he doesn’t even feel a fly bother him enough to move a single muscle or swat it away. He doesn’t know how he got there, but it’s him against the world, and he has to take more and more drastic means to make his point, to get his way. His idea of what’s fair is to get even. That seems to describe our world today.
The month of August has traditionally had a reputation as the lazy days of summer, but that was then. Now the mass shooting on the front page of today’s morning newspaper is already old news, because another one has taken its place since it went to press. The lead story on the evening news jumps back and forth from one mass shooting to another, so many that we can’t keep track of them anymore. It’s like a traveling tour of carnage coming soon to a city near you. As the school year begins, the sale of bulletproof backpacks are up 200%, and parents are explaining to their third-graders how to use it as a barrier during an emergency. Fire drills at school are replaced by mass shooting drills, and there is major panic and a stampede in Times Square when a car backfires. All of this is having a chilling effect throughout our society, even affecting those far away from ground zero. There’s even a name for it now: Terror by Proxy.
All of this is feeding the fear that is replacing faith in more and more people, like a cancer spreading throughout the world. We look to our leaders for help, for a Moses to part the Red Sea of today and lead us unitedly to the other side before the sea swallows us up. Instead, they blame each other and add accelerant to the flames with their polarizing politics—preaching love, but only if it’s their kind of love. The old joke about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic doesn’t even begin to describe it. They can’t even agree on how to arrange the chairs, and they blame each other for causing the iceberg. The Lord was right when He said of our current day, “men’s hearts shall fail them.”
About six years ago, I was in Los Angeles to visit Matt, a very special guy in my life. During my spare time before we met, I walked a block from my hotel room to Highland Plaza, one of the biggest and most popular shopping malls in Southern California. I sat on a bench doing some people-watching at one of its busiest areas, and I noticed no one was displaying any affection with each other at all. After almost a full hour when I finally saw a man and woman holding hands, my silly critters nudged me, and I, a total stranger, walked up to them and asked, “Excuse me, do you have a moment for a compliment?” That sincere line never fails, and they smiled curiously and said “yes.” “I’ve been people-watching on that bench over there while I had some spare time, and you’re the first couple I’ve seen in almost an hour that’s holding hands. You may very well be an endangered species, because the world is starved these days for more examples of love, but fewer and fewer people demonstrate it. So, please, don’t stop. Keep showing a little PDA (public display of affection) when you’re out and about, to remind others that it’s okay to do that. In fact, it’s more important than ever.” They were surprised but pleased that I singled them out for such a compliment. It reinforced their love for each other and for their fellowman, and they vowed to keep it up and pay it forward.
Compare that incident with an Affirmation meeting in an Oakland area home I attended about the same time. There were about 25 there—members, guests, LDS, non-LDS, men, women, gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and straight of all ages. After the guest speaker finished, I went up to meet him, waiting behind two college-age guys, handsome, attractive, confident, wearing white shirts and ties—they could have been returned missionaries. While they were talking with him, I couldn’t help but notice one was gently scratching the lower back of his companion, while the other was casually rubbing the back of the first. Under the radar, they were carrying on a loving, intimate conversation with each other while talking with the guest speaker. I almost felt guilty observing such a tender and personal moment, but I sensed they wouldn’t mind, that they were focused on the guest…and each other…and didn’t worry about the PDA and who noticed. Later, I asked those total strangers, “Excuse me, do you have a moment for a compliment?” and I explained what I observed. “Obviously, there’s something special between the two of you, so don’t do anything to screw it up (laughter). The world needs more of that on display, reminding us what’s most important in this world.” They appreciated the feedback and we talked for a few minutes before I left them to themselves.
At first, there seems to be many parallels to the two incidents, the mall and the meeting. But one is public in the middle of a shopping mall, and the other is in the privacy of a home, and while love is needed more today than ever before, hardly anyone shows any public display of true, sincere, love anymore. Straight or gay, it doesn’t seem to matter. But which is worse? Straights who don’t show it in public, or gays who can’t?
We know there are places in this world where two men or women holding hands in public can be arrested or much worse. But, even in areas where there are laws covering every type of discrimination possible, you can’t legislate attitude. You can’t make someone love or accept you—that is voluntary—and there are still many areas of subtle prejudice that may intimidate us from simply holding hands in public. Would you refuse life-saving blood from someone simply because he’s the wrong color person? Of course not. Then we should welcome more love in this world regardless of the source. Our world may soon be on life support, and we need that PDA to sustain us, help heal us, to unite us and get us through the Red Sea before it swallows us up.
So, whether you’re in a busy shopping mall or anywhere else, don’t carry around so much baggage, whether physical, mental, or prejudicial. Leave one hand free to share with your special someone, and allow, even welcome, others the same simple right. Will that change the whole world? No, but it may help someone else change theirs, and remind them…and the rest of us…what’s most important in the world.
It’s not a matter of either/or…it’s a matter of more.
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out all posts in the Two Degrees off Center blog series.