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    ‘Oy’ or ‘Joy’ to the World in 2019?

    By Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis–

    The end of one year and the beginning of the next provides us the opportunity—if we choose to take it—to reflect on how we relate to some of the most cherished human qualities and values: gratitude, generosity, connection, self-reflection, intentionality, justice, equality and nonviolence. As we bid farewell (or good riddance) to 2018 and welcome 2019, the two of us find ourselves both discovering “joy”—and exclaiming, “Oy!”

    One dictionary definition of the word “oy” (short for “oy vey”) is: “a Yiddish exclamation used when someone is upset, shocked, disappointed, worried, etc.” For many of us, reasons to say “oy” on a political and global (and perhaps a personal) level are plentiful: the Trump Presidency, Brett Kavanaugh’s joining Neil Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court, the California wildfires raging as the Trump administration continues to backtrack on efforts to address climate change—just to name a few.

    And some joys easily come to mind: a progressive San Franciscan, Nancy Pelosi, set to resume her historic position as the first woman Speaker of the House; and the election of the nation’s first openly gay governor, Jared Polis, who along with his partner Marlon Reis, “Colorado’s first man,” will move into the Governor’s Mansion in January.

    We experienced a personal and political “oy” moment last fall when, out of the blue, we received an email from a teenager who had apparently attended a talk we had given in China the year before. The email read:

    “It’s Andrew—I’m an 18-year-old high school student. Yesterday I came out to my family, but it seemed like a disaster. With pieces of broken glass on the floor, I was forced to see a doctor whom I’ve not met. My mom wants to stop giving me money and interrupt my applying for colleges. I was insulted by my mom for 2 days. I’m sitting on the street, cuz I’m afraid to come back home. My mom will keep insulting me. I’m a Chinese, as u know, it’s not a ‘equal’ country, I’m not allowed to be an gay. But I want to be who I’m supposed to be.

    I really don’t know what to do.

    Thanks for listening.”

    Sadly, that email—or much worse—could have come from anywhere in America or around the world, and our hearts go out to all facing such distress. We remember our own internal stress and the less dramatic challenges we faced as we came out.

    From thousands of miles away, we responded to Andrew’s email with love, empathy, affirmation and support. We reminded Andrew that he was “a beautiful, loving person just the way you are” and offered practical suggestions as well. Months later, we heard back from Andrew:

    “After struggling for a long time, the argu[ing] finally stopped, but I don’t know if my family is supportive … . I think it’ll take time. I’m fine now, and I hope my family will understand me someday. Thank you so much!!!❤❤❤”

    We hope things will continue to get better for Andrew, but we really don’t know if they will. And for many people, living conditions and circumstances do not improve.

    At the National AIDS Memorial Grove’s annual “Light in the Grove” event in December, outgoing Board Chair and Lifetime of Commitment Honoree Mike Shriver reminded those gathered that in our community’s long struggle with HIV/AIDS and in the experiences of those who lived with the disease in the bleakest times, it was not about death; it was all about life. Those of us who have taken part have had the chance to receive agonizing, bittersweet, intimate and inspiring gifts when we joined and witnessed people with AIDS living even as their tragic deaths approached. In Mike’s words that evening: “L’Chaim”—to life.

    The first Buddhist practice precept is to abstain from intentionally killing any animate life. Those who find inspiration in this commitment may spend inordinate amounts of time and effort trying to rid their homes of such things as visiting flies, ants and spiders without swatting or smushing them. Ultimately, the idea is to do so, not pedantically, but to appreciate the vitality and vibrancy of life and to cultivate a heart that wishes no harm to anyone or anything.

    Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner M.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” comes to mind:

    with the night falling we are saying thank you
    we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
    we are running out of the glass rooms
    with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
    and say thank you
    we are standing by the water thanking it
    standing by the windows looking out
    in our directions

    back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
    after funerals we are saying thank you
    after the news of the dead
    whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

    over telephones we are saying thank you
    in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
    remembering wars and the police at the door
    and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
    in the banks we are saying thank you
    in the faces of the officials and the rich
    and of all who will never change
    we go on saying thank you thank you

    with the animals dying around us
    taking our feelings we are saying thank you
    with the forests falling faster than the minutes
    of our lives we are saying thank you
    with the words going out like cells of a brain
    with the cities growing over us
    we are saying thank you faster and faster
    with nobody listening we are saying thank you
    thank you we are saying and waving
    dark though it is

    “Oy” and “Joy”—and thanks—to the World and to all of the San Francisco Bay Times readers as we say goodbye to 2018, and hello, 2019!

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.