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From grief to action. (last word).

When I saw Woody Allen's Radio Days, I remember being struck by the fact that American people, for the first time, thanks to radio, were suddenly able to jointly experience the same emotional moment in "real time," as we've come to call it. They were glued to their radios, listening to the attempted rescue of a little girl who had fallen down a well. They were praying for her and her family and cheering for the rescue workers. Americans held their collective breath.

I remember other times when we knew we were all in it together: JFK is shot and dying. Bobby is shot and dying. Martin Luther King Jr. is shot and dying. The astronauts have vanished in a puff of fire in midair before our astounded eyes.

And now, together, we see--and see again--those twin buildings are hit. They topple.

I'm still filled with tears. Everyone I know is grieving. I now love people I've never met--victims, their families and friends, firefighters, police, and people whose last action in the world was to call someone on their cell phone and say, "I love you." They all said it, did you notice? I feel like I lost them all, all the pictures hung with hope and then despair on the walls of New York.

I remember having a similar reaction when I first saw the AIDS quilt in Washington, D.C. I was there to march--to claim just a few basic human rights for our community. But I also shared, with so many others, the experience of that beautiful quilt. I personally knew only a few of those who had been lost to AIDS, but I stopped and considered each square--a pink triangle T-shirt, a quilted piano, a CD, a portrait, a favorite comic book, a poem, the frozen moment of an old Polaroid. I loved and mourned them all.

Today, like many other Americans, I have a flag at my house--and I ask myself, Why? Most of my life I've been wary of flag flying, especially when it meant "America, love it or leave it." To me, that's not what it's all about. I love this country because I get to say what it is. I love what's good, free, and loving in it, and I want to fix the rest. I want to ask in a gay magazine, "Who cares if we're gay?"

The answer to that question, of course, is Jerry Falwell, who has done us the great favor of trumpeting his bigotry so clearly that people who'd never experienced it were finally appalled. He reminded us of the hatred still here. And, once again, America lost its innocence.

People didn't know Jerry Falwell is so "out there." They also didn't know there are 10 million land mines in Afghanistan. They didn't know that they could be so affected by something so far outside our borders. And they still may not know that Mark Bingham, one of the men who fought to bring down the plane in Pennsylvania before it crashed into the Capitol, was gay.

At the moment, though, it's not about whether we're gay or not. It's about what we've learned and what we have to teach others. Is there a collective gay and lesbian truth? We've learned that justice can be a malleable word but that in America it means individuals must answer for their own crimes; we do not punish their families, their neighborhoods, or their country.

Gay men and lesbians have fiercely held America to her promise of inclusion and equality--and have been held to it ourselves. We've sat at thousands of hospital bedsides where the last words were "I love you." We now must show that a community that has been defamed--and that has built a movement based on a shared experience--can help heal a civilization caught up in hatred.

We've learned that death can bring reflection, meaning, and action. We've learned that you can lose your innocence only once before you're driven to action. And we've changed and been changed by telling the truth. Maybe now that's what we have to teach.
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Article Details
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Author:Kuehl, Sheila
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 20, 2001
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