I must admit it. I must tell you that since this struggle with the Non-Discrimination Ordinance began a few weeks ago, I haven’t gotten much sleep. On the nights I do make it to bed at a reasonable hour, I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of unfinished tasks, phone calls that need to be made, messages that need to be sent and the laundry that’s piling up while I’m working on this ordinance (thanks Paul).
These sleepless nights do affect me, but not in entirely adverse ways. I write this in one of those sleepless nights thinking about what needs to be done again. But I am not anxious. I am not worried about whether we get the seven votes we need at Monday’s Commission meeting.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m in this to win. There’s no citizen in this county that wants to see fairness in Shelby County more than me.
But I have realized something really profound lately that is not dependent on the voting outcome at the first, second or third County Commission meeting that is to come. In this work, I’ve had the great privilege to work with friends and make new ones who have stepped forward to help make our community and our government responsive to the needs of its citizens. This work has not been without struggle. We have all heard and endured misguided and hurtful rhetoric.
We’ve heard it before from a very early age. We can all remember sleepless nights wondering if we would ever see the light of day in our lives because we are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
My sleepless nights remind me of a story that has always given me strength when faced with adversity – a powerful story that has always had a tremendous meaning to me personally. I love the story in Genesis of Jacob wrestling with an angel in the night. You probably know it. He goes to sleep the night before crossing the River Jordan to meet his brother Esau whom he thinks must be really pissed at him. Much earlier in the story, Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him his blessing instead of Esau. Jacob had to flee his home in fear of death at the hands of his brother.
But Jacob comes back a new man and with a new family hoping to return to his native land. As he approaches his home, he is filled with anxiety. He knows that his brother waits for him on the other side of the River Jordan. He sends his family ahead of him along with messengers to his brother to warn that he is returning home. During the night, Jacob wrestles with a man assumed to be God or at least an angel. Jacob could not be overpowered and would not let the man go until he blessed him just before daybreak.
After receiving his blessing, Jacob meets the sunrise in a new day and crosses the river Jordan where his brother Esau greets him with open arms.
We are like plucky Jacob wresting in the night hoping and waiting for safe passage into promised and sacred land. We wait for a blessing of a different kind. We wait for the recognition from our community that we belong. We wait to be greeted with open arms by our brothers and sisters and to be told that there is room enough at the table for us all.
Our night may not be over when Monday’s vote comes. We may still have more wrestling to finish in the night. But it is a struggle worth having. There is no blessing without struggle. And the struggle is not just for us, but for our families and our community. What we seek is reconciliation. What we seek is a blessing that benefits us and everyone.
We are a community in transformation. The conversation that we have started will not end with the vote on Monday - regardless of the outcome.