Lost in other peo­ple’s feel­ings

GA Voice - - The Wedding Issue -

The last place I thought I would be dur­ing Easter week­end was inside a church, but that’s where I spent part of a life-or-death Satur­day, or more ac­cu­rately, love-and­death. I started my day at­tend­ing a fu­neral and ended it at a wed­ding, which might have stretched my emo­tions in com­pet­ing di­rec­tions ex­cept I didn’t know the per­son who had died or the cou­ple be­ing mar­ried.

I cer­tainly felt sad­ness for a dear friend who was say­ing a fi­nal good­bye to her adult daugh­ter, and the thought of some­one I care about hav­ing to en­dure such a uniquely tor­tur­ous loss. Al­though I had never met the de­ceased, I at­tended the fu­neral be­cause when you feel help­less to al­le­vi­ate a friend’s grief with any­thing you could say or do, sim­ply be­ing present seems the most ef­fec­tive and re­spect­ful way to let her know that you are there for her.

But her pain is not my pain, and so while she was over­whelmed by mem­o­ries of the baby she brought into the world and the era­sure of parental hope, I was able to con­tem­plate how the death spared my friend decades of strug­gle and heart­break; my big­gest an­guish of the morn­ing was whether it was un­couth to show up to a fu­neral car­ry­ing big bright Easter bas­kets for two young girls who had lost their mother and aunt. Dur­ing the ser­vice, I had no mem­o­ries of the de­parted to oc­cupy my mind, and I found my­self staring in the di­rec­tion of the im­me­di­ate fam­ily, al­most mon­i­tor­ing their mourn­ing.

Their woe felt suf­fi­cient and ap­pro­pri­ate: cry­ing and flushed faces, pained but heart­felt smiles when the speaker told sto­ries of child­hood mis­chief. I won­dered whether there was sor­row that I was ca­pa­ble of deem­ing in­suf­fi­cient, and was dis­ap­pointed by even the pos­si­bil­ity that I might’ve judged a fam­ily’s sad­ness if they were too stoic or if they were slid­ing out of the pews and wail­ing on the church floor.

There is no tem­plate for how to cope with trauma, just as there is no ver­i­fied for­mula for fall­ing in love. But pre­tend­ing there is a stan­dard is some­thing we fre­quently do with vary­ing de­grees of con­scious­ness, whether it’s one of my best friends who reg­u­larly com­plains about what he con­sid­ers over­wrought be­reave- “While work­ing at the wed­ding Satur­day, one of my ca­ter­ing co-work­ers men­tioned that he was re­cently out of a 13-year re­la­tion­ship. An­other co-worker and I re­sponded at the same time, with him say­ing, ‘I’m sorry,’ and me of­fer­ing, ‘Con­grat­u­la­tions!’” ment posts on so­cial me­dia, or the ex­al­ta­tion of monogamy that is em­bed­ded in the same-sex mar­riage move­ment and now its af­ter­math.

A friend of mine was re­cently ad­mir­ing a trib­ute to one-half of a gay At­lanta power cou­ple from his part­ner, which was in­deed touch­ing and in­spir­ing. My friend char­ac­ter­ized the lover’s tes­ti­mo­nial as “a blue­print on how one should feel if you are truly en­gaged in a re­la­tion­ship/partnership/mar­riage.”

I worry about the detri­men­tal side ef­fects of this sen­ti­ment (which I be­lieve is wide­spread in our com­mu­nity) on both the cou­ple and their ad­mir­ers. Manag­ing a re­la­tion­ship is its own chal­lenge, with­out hav­ing to bear the weight of a com­mu­nity’s ro­man­tic dreams and ideals.

And as I told my friend, “I think peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly this gen­er­a­tion of gay men, find a lot of heartache and dis­ap­point­ment chas­ing the shoulds of re­la­tion­ships, letting their imag­i­na­tions and other peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions govern their emo­tions.”

While work­ing at the wed­ding Satur­day, one of my ca­ter­ing co-work­ers men­tioned that he was re­cently out of a 13-year re­la­tion­ship. An­other co-worker and I re­sponded at the same time, with him say­ing, “I’m sorry,” and me of­fer­ing, “Con­grat­u­la­tions!”

Per­haps the day of bi-po­lar af­fairs had me con­fused about cel­e­brat­ing vs. con­do­lences, or maybe be­ing in such close prox­im­ity to hap­pi­ness and sad­ness, but be­ing apart from both, gave me the dis­tance to view the oc­ca­sions with­out the ex­pected sen­ti­men­tal­ity.

Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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