Few things are as exciting as the anticipation of bringing home a new pet. The anticipation comes from expectations, hopes, and dreams of what life with a new kitten, dog, bird, turtle, or whatever, will be like. I recently experienced this anticipation for myself. About one month ago impulsivity and curiosity got the best of me and I found myself, after a few weeks of weighing the pros and cons, at the local animal shelter with two kittens tucked away in a box in the back seat of my car. It was exhilarating. On the drive home I imagined how awesome life would be with my new pets. I could teach these kittens cool tricks. We could snuggle up on the couch, run around the house chasing string, and bat fake mice around with our paws.
Unknown to me when I picked her up from the shelter, Luna had come in contact with parvovirus (most commonly known as feline distemper). I learned this 24 hours later through an emergency visit to the vet. I also learned that most kittens die within 24 hours of showing symptoms of the virus. I was forced to make a very difficult decision: How much do I value the life of one sick kitten I barely know? How much of my time am I willing to give to keep her alive with nothing more than a 50% chance her immune system might be able to beat the virus? How much of my money am I willing to spend on a kitten that, a few days earlier, was tossed from the window of a moving car? What am I willing to do? As many have experienced in other contexts, these questions are difficult.
Several emotions swept over me during this time. The first was anger toward the shelter. They should have told me! They should have told me that things like this happen! But then logic convinced me the shelter had no way of knowing Luna had come in contact with the virus. The next emotion to sweep over me was loss and mourning. Would she live? Would she grow up to be the cat I expected, hoped, and dreamed about?
After time and thought, I decided to err on the side of life, to let her choose. At the time, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Her condition deteriorated, and I found myself providing ’round the clock care and clean up. For those unfamiliar with parvovirus, it affects the intestines and, sparing the details, causes dehydration. This meant keeping her hydrated by administering fluids under the skin through IVs and giving her anti-nausea shots to stop the vomiting. Because cats with distemper lose their appetite, it also meant force feeding her chicken broth so she would have a few calories to fuel her through the long fight.
After three days of ’round the clock care and several visits to the vet, she passed away. I can’t say I was surprised by her death, but I was caught off guard. When you do so much to fight for life, part of you assumes your best is enough. But sadly that’s not always the case. And sometimes your mind contradicts your heart. My mind told me there was no logical way she’d make it through the night when I saw her laying on the bathroom counter frail and unable to hold her head up. My heart told me to hold on the that 50% chance of survival — she was going to survive! My heart told me to not to let go of the dreams and expectations developed on the drive away from the animal shelter. But sadly, you don’t always get what you expect.
Instead, my heart and mind are full of memories and lessons. I remember her in her weakened state walking from the bathroom to the living room and jumping up onto the couch to spend time with me. I remember how rapidly she lost her strength and soon was unable to walk into the living room. I remember setting a towel down for her, and I remember her using her remaining strength to walk onto the towel so I could carry her into the living room. I remember the couch wasn’t enough; she wanted to sit on my lap and snuggle.
Ultimately, I learned that life is worth fighting for even when the result isn’t what you want or expect. I learned that sometimes life puts you in difficult situations and asks, “How much do you value me? How much are you willing to do to communicate to others how valuable I am to you?” Or, as Viktor Frankl put it:
“It [does] not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life [expects] from us. We [need] to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who [are] being questioned by life…. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
The context for these questions isn’t always the same but life demands answers from everyone. Today I’m answering these questions in a different context but the effort and the pain is the same, if not more. Today life asks, “How much do you value the life of people who identify as gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, and queer? How much are you willing to do for them?”
Human relationships bring the same exhilarating feelings as bringing home a new pet: the birth of a child, meeting someone with similar goals and life experiences, developing and forging strong ties with other, and sharing raw human emotions and experiences together. Part of the exhilaration are the expectations, hopes, and dreams for the future. What lie ahead? What awesome moments will we share? What memories will we create?
Unknown to us while we form these relationships, we come in contact with people who are gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, and queer. Unlike feline distemper, there are no symptoms: you can’t tell, just by looking, that someone is gay or lesbian. Like feline distemper, things happen below the surface that erode strength, hope, and life. Between 30 and 40% of LGB youth have attempted suicide, are three times more likely to report not feeling safe at school than straight youth, and 90% have been harassed or assaulted at school (compared to 62% of straight youth). This suggests to me we do not communicate how valuable their lives are. And like any tragedy, in our anger and frustration over that which we cannot change or control, we look to someone or something to blame. How did this happen? Why did this happen?
What can I do to prove I care? Betty DeGeneres, mother of Ellen, says it best:
“The key to building a bridge to acceptance by heterosexuals is coming out. As people begin to realize that acquaintances, coworkers, service people, and professionals they already know and like happen to be gay or lesbian, their ignorance and fear will vanish, as it should. The best cure for homophobia is getting to know a gay person.”
I can prove I care by coming out. I’m gay (suspicion confirmed). I always have been (unknown to you when we met), and I always will be.
How does this prove I care?
By speaking up, it gives other people permission to speak up. When I returned home from serving a mission for the LDS Church, I was called to be an Elder’s Quorum President — a leader of a group of men (ironic, I know). Unknown to me at the time, several of the men in that group, like me, faced the internal battle of sexual orientation; we carried the burden alone. Years later, and because I communicate frequently on Facebook and other social media that I care about gay issues, one member of that former group stepped forward and confided in me. By being somewhat open, I gave him permission to speak up.
When we speak up, friends, family, coworkers, and classmates are forced to answer the similar questions, “How much do I value life? And what can I do to show how much I value life?” Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons) and members of other religions have been asked this question over and over as the gay marriage debate continues. Many decide to show their value of life through monetary support of constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage. Such support takes its toll silently, especially when accompanied by passionate and all-too-often derogatory discussion.
One gay Mormon relates reading from a BYU editorial:
“I read a recent letter to the editor with great pain. The author equated my gay friends and me to murderers, Satanists, prostitutes, pedophiles, and partakers of bestiality. Imagine having to live with this hateful rhetoric constantly being spewed at you” (In Quiet Desperation, p. 37).
That rhetoric was also spewed at his local congregation during the debate over Prop. 22. It became so bad that the leader of his congregation told him to stop coming to church. It continued to escalate to the point that he took his life. To his family, he wrote:
“I am free, I am no longer in pain, and I no longer hate myself… The same dilemma now faces you. You all believe that the choice of life is good and the choice of death is not . . . my life was actually killed long ago. Perhaps your action to help others understand…might help save many young people’s lives” (p. 19).
When we have answers to difficult questions life gives us, it gets betters. Or, rather, when we have the right answers and the right actions, it gets better. When forced to answer these questions, sometimes your heart will contradict your mind. There’s no logical reason why some people are gay and others are straight. But your heart is telling you something different. Listen.
As you answer these questions, memories and lessons are forged into your heart. You will become better a better person when you demonstrate kindness and compassion towards gay, lesbians, bi, transgender, and queer persons. I learned this lesson in high school. Unknown to me, a friend of mine was gay. I wasn’t out to anyone other than my parents at the time. Late one night I received a phone call from this kid’s mom. She asked when I last saw her son. I told her I saw him at school but that he didn’t ride the bus home. The next morning, she called to let me know he had attempted suicide that night. He grabbed his father’s insulin, walked to a park near their house, and injected the fluids. He was hospitalized for a few days. He returned to school, but the bullying he experienced was too much so he transferred to a different school where no one knew his history.
If you are an ally, speak up. Let gays and lesbians know you care and value their lives. If you are gay or lesbian, confide in someone.
It gets better.