Today I worked almost a 12 hour shift and by the time we’d closed and I’d walked to the train station and found a bench I was exhausted. I’d JUST missed the train I needed so I knew I’d have awhile to sit. I pulled out my book and settled into the bench to read a little. I don’t actually mind waiting for trains as long as I’m not running late so, while I was tired, I wasn’t particularly annoyed.
Less than a minute after I’d sat down a family of five walks into the station, and two of the children and the mom sat down next to me, while the dad and the oldest boy stayed standing. The dad seemed to be on an ongoing tirade about same sex marriage. For a few minutes I pretended to ignore what he was saying, until finally I was fed up.
I put my book in my lap and said, “Sir, you totally have the right to think and say what you like, but I had a long day at work and I’m tired of hearing how immoral I am. Would you mind finishing your tirade later?” Seeing the somewhat angry look on his face, and knowing I wasn’t in the mood for any kind of a fight or a lecture, I quickly tried to figure out some peace offering.
“Also,” I said, not pausing to wait for his retort, “Would any of you like a cupcake? We had tons left over at work.”
The two younger kids, seated on the bench next to me, looked at their dad. By now he just looked confused, no longer angry, and definitely unsure what to think of me.
“Can we have a cupcake, dad?” asked the younger girl. He shrugged, and they both looked back to me. I gave them a pack of four cupcakes, and they grabbed them and said thank you. The mom asked where I worked, I told her, and we laughed that one of the perks and drawbacks of working at a coffee shop was the amount of free pastry available.
I asked them if they were visiting Boston for the first time, and the dad said that he’d been before but it was the kids’ first time. We talked for over 10 minutes about Boston, and Los Angeles (where I am from) and Tennessee (where they are from) and what kinds of things to see in Boston. I looked up an address on my phone for them. We laughed that we could see into one of the hotel rooms across the street and it looked like they were jumping on the bed.
I asked what they were up to the next day, and they said that they hoped to see the Aquarium and maybe do a Duckboat tour. Needing to just sneak one little jab in there I invited them to join me at church the next morning; their faces were predictably confused.
And a couple minutes later their train came. They all said goodbye to me, the kids thanked me again for the cupcakes, and that was that. We all, at least, left the interaction smiling.
So did I change any minds forever? Who knows; probably not drastically.
Did they get to hear a different position on the same sex marriage debate? Nope.
Did I bring up politics or the real injustices that gay people face or quote any bible back at them about equality, love, and compassion? Not even a little.
Because did I mention I’d worked an almost 12 hour shift? That I’d been out of the house for fifteen hours? That above all I was tired and just wanted to not listen to somebody bashing me and my family? That really was my initial motivation.
I’m so tired of fighting and fighting and fighting; of having the same argument with the same people and the same counterarguments flying my way. And I also do firmly and wholeheartedly believe that he did have the right to be saying what he was saying. I just didn’t want to listen, and I also didn’t really want to move.
So I offered what I had – cupcakes and advice about the city of Boston.
And, lo, it worked. They, of course, played a part too. They didn’t lecture me, or ignore my request, or target me. They accepted cupcakes from a stranger who they recognized they had been saying bad things about mere seconds before. They were interested enough, or at least feigned interest, in what I had to say, and I listened as they told me about their home back in Tennessee. We all chose to interact on that human level. That whole I-Thou thing we talk so much about.
So what’s the takeaway here? Always carry cupcakes seems impractical.
But maybe, “always be willing to approach an issue in a new way.” may be worth looking at.
Or, perhaps, “people don’t like being yelled at.”
Or maybe, just maybe, something about the inherent worth and dignity of all people? Or exercising justice, equity, and compassion in human relations?
Right, those pesky first and second principles.
I’ve been trying this thing recently, just in the past couple of months. When something upsets me I figure out what my first reaction is, and I don’t do that. I wait a minute and think, “ok, how else can I deal with this situation?” It’s led to some really neat conversations and interactions, and this is a really fun and concrete example of one.
I, like most anybody I can think of, am just tired of politics and rhetoric. I don’t want to have the same argument about the over 1400 rights that married couples have in the US. I don’t want to talk about how trans people can be fired just for their identity. I don’t want to bring up LGBTQ youth suicide rates, instances of bullying, or any of the other stuff that are the go to talking points for “dealing with” the anti-LGBTQ crowd. I want to have these conversations in new and different ways; or maybe, instead of having “those: conversations, I want to talk to people about their families and I want to let them know who I am; that I am more than a ballot question that they vote against.
So no, I probably didn’t change their minds. And I will be shocked beyond belief if they show up to church tomorrow. I have no doubt that they will go back to their Independent Fundamental Baptist church in Tennessee (I’m not making assumptions; they told me) and nod along with the minister if anything anti-gay is said from the pulpit.
But we didn’t fight. We DIDN’T FIGHT. That’s a step, right? Please, let it be a step.