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With Regrets

March 5, 2013

On February 28th, 2013, Westboro Baptist Church (the classy owners of the URL, godhatesfags.com) descended on my alma mater, Vassar College, in protest of the school’s unabashed support of the LGBTQ community. And by descended on, I mean 4 of them showed up, and were met by hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alums and family members, gathered not in counter-protest, but in a campus-wide day of celebration of love and equality.

I wasn’t able to attend, but – because it’s the future – there was a live web-feed from a hand-cam a student was operating, which I turned on just in time to watch as these hundreds upon hundreds of community members were joining hands to form a gigantic circle around campus. The image was incredibly powerful. I know I’m not the only alum who turned on the feed and found themselves in tears; we could not be more proud of our school, for their spirit of inclusiveness and joy in the face of hatred (not to mention the $100,000+ the community raised for various LGBTQ organizations in honor of the day).

But pride wasn’t the only thing welling up and out of me. Because I’m a therapy-nerd, I wrote down on a sticky all the things I was feeling while watching the feed, and in addition to the emotions you might expect – pride, joy, nostalgia, love, a little spice of rage at WBC – I realized some of my tears were born of regret.

I grew up Catholic (the only little Rosenberg at CCD…), and consequently spent a fair amount of my childhood and adolescence pretty convinced “gays go to Hell.”  When I tell the story of my “recovery” from Catholicism I usually place the fulcrum around 15, when I met my first gay friend, Jason, and realized my beliefs fell apart in the face of a truly good, wonderful person, who happened to be gay.  But claiming a sudden epiphany and instant acceptance gives me way too much credit.

Watching this group of students and faculty join hands, I was reminded of something I said my first week of college that often comes back to haunt me. It was during orientation at the “Before School Conference” – the BSC, because we love to acronym – for which I had elected to attend a day of – ostensibly – theater camp. At the beginning of the day we gathered in one of the school’s performance spaces, and before events commenced, I observed a particularly flamboyant gentleman across the way from me, and made some comment to whomever I was with to the tune of:

“I’m totally fine with gay people, I just can’t stand when they wear it on their sleeve like that.”

Is it possible for my entire body to cringe? ‘Cause that just happened.

That was August 1999. Just 14 years ago. Now, spending the next 4 years at Vassar College did a lot of good to whip me into tolerance shape, at least as far as this particular population goes, but watching this video did force me to sit with the remorse and regret I felt for my former self – for my actions, but also for what pain must have lived inside the 18 year old me that felt the need to express that sort of diseased opinion.

My intolerance came from a lack of knowledge and education, and I am remorseful for my words while maintaining the awareness that it wasn’t “my fault” necessarily, and that I’ve righted my path since then. But regret, on the other hand, is something I’ve been sitting with a great deal lately. The more I pick apart childhood pain and its consequently reverberating habits in my adult self, the more regret I have. Put simply it’s the old, “If only I knew then what I know now…” deal.

It doesn’t feel like a terribly productive place to be, because there’s nothing I can do about it now, other than extend compassion to that messed up kid and try to learn from it all, but sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by time lost.  Time that could have been spent opening to people, making myself emotionally available. Time that now, in 2013, is spent climbing the mountain of my own emotional life, chipping away incessantly at diamond-strength resistance.

But at least now I can watch the magical live-feed of Vassar kids living in a world better designed for tolerance – at least in some places – than when I was in their shoes. We all got shit, and those students are dealing with whatever version of trauma and heartache they own just like me, but at least maybe they’ll have one less regret-mountain to climb.

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