I Do Not Understand

A few days ago, I sat in a church in Boston and experienced a service unlike any I had ever seen before.

It was raucous, exuberant, a celebration of love. The whole church was decked in colorful banners and flags, and glittering tinsel swallowed the dark paneling of the high pulpit. Cardboard figures of Madonna and Beyonce and Rihanna adorned the front of the church, and a large poster of a toilet proclaiming all were welcome stood on the landing below the minister.

But the church was drab compared to the people in it. Men in bright dresses and women in work boots, rainbow socks and rainbow jackets and rainbow hats and rainbow tassels and rainbow suspenders, sat in every pew. A man strode up and down the aisle wearing a pink tank top and angel wings. Men and women stood at the door handing out shining beads. And everybody had a rainbow flag in their hand or their hair or their buttonhole or their hat.

We sang about courage. A self-proclaimed gender-queer woman stood up and talked about someone calling her sir at nine months pregnant. We sang about love. A gender-fluid woman stood up and talked about wearing a ponytail and beating several boys in a push-up contest. We sang about being ourselves. Several members of the congregation stood and named family members and loved ones they have lost to AIDS, to violence, to suicide.

After the service we stood on the curb and had lunch and watched the Pride parade. If possible, it was even more exuberant than the service: men wearing too little, and men wearing too much of what many people would consider the wrong things. Women wearing bright colors, and drab colors, and high heels, and platform shoes. Gay men marching with their children, and gay women marching with their children, and heterosexual couples marching with their children. Gay fathers, and fathers of gays. Gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and queer and their allies.

The message was clear, and I found myself absorbing it little by little. The service and parade were not about gay-ness. They were not about celebrating a lifestyle. They were not about encouraging anybody to become anything they are not.

They were, purely and simply, about love. About a man’s or woman’s right to love whomever they choose, and more importantly, to love themselves as they are, whomever they choose to love. I love, all these people said who are different than I. I love, and I am worthy of love, even though the way I love might be different than the way you love.

I heard that message loud and clear. And these few words began repeating themselves over and over in my head:

I do not understand. But I believe.

I am a heterosexual, cisgender male. I have no doubt whatsoever about my identity. I have never been curious what it might be like to be with a man. I do not understand what attracts one man to another, or one woman to another. I barely understand what attracts a woman to a man.

But just because I do not understand does not mean the attraction is not real. Just because I cannot grasp it does not mean the love of a man for his husband or a woman for her wife is less than my love for my wife, or than hers for me.

I do not understand. But I believe.

The next day, we woke to the news that fifty people had been murdered in a gay club in Orlando. Murdered for who they were, it seems, and for who the gunman was. Murdered because the way they loved was different from the way he loved.

He did not understand, and he did not believe.

It could be that I knew some of the people in that club. It could be, modern technology being what it is, that some of the exuberant people I saw in the church or the Pride parade on Saturday in Boston were among the dead on Sunday in Orlando. Because one man did not understand, and he did not believe.

I don’t believe I could have done anything to stop the shooting in Orlando from happening. I feel no guilt over this terrible crime. I do feel saddened, and sickened, and fearful of what might come next because others do not understand and do not believe.

And I feel the need to make some things absolutely clear, in case my past posts have been at all ambiguous:

If you draw breath, I love you. I might not understand, and I might not know how to love you in a way you would appreciate, but there it is.

If you are a man who loves women, or a woman who loves men, or a man who loves men, or a woman who loves women, or any combination of any of these; if you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally.

If you believe the way you love is the only right way to love, if you believe you have the right to tell others how they should love, if you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you.

If you believe you have the right, or the obligation, or the duty to hurt those who would not hurt you; if you believe you can or must hurt others because they love differently than you; if you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you; I am your enemy.

My name is H. Scott Dalton, and I am a joyful and courageous man. I do not understand, but I believe. And I stand with you who love.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.
  • I want this to go viral. I believe that writers’ voices shine the brightest when they get to the place that holds the deepest passion, the purest honesty that lies within them. You have just proven that to be true. “If you draw breath, I love you”. If we could all wake up and believe those words, live those words, what a beautiful world it would be. This is heart-wrenching and grace-giving, andI am grateful you took great care in writing it well. Bravo, cousin!

    • H. Scott Dalton

      Thanks, Alyson. The response this morning has been amazing. I