On every person's spiritual journey, we are tested to help us learn. Occasionally, we invite frustrating people into our lives who challenge us to be stronger and stand up for ourselves. I have reiterated this lesson to clients for years now, yet I must admit that it stings when it happens in my life. I pride myself on searching for balance in all areas. However, learning compassion and forgiveness can be a hard lesson when we feel mistreated.
Recently, David received an invitation to a bar mitzvah on his side of the family. It was explained to us that I was not invited to the synagogue for services because it would create too much gossip within their religious community. I was, however, invited to the party the following day. When David put down the phone to explain the situation, we sat and stared at each other in silence. Flurries of thought went through my mind. I was angry. No, I was infuriated! I was deeply hurt that a family member would consider my mere presence in a holy institution damaging.
Ironically, David was relieved that the topic was on the table for discussion at all. In March David and I will celebrate our ninth year of being a couple. We have had many hurdles to overcome with family. We were first told that we would never be welcome together in anyone's homes or at any family event. Members of his family initially said they would never accept nor meet me. David has a strong sense of family, however, and he has been extremely patient with them over the years. When we express this to some of our friends, it brings up a strong range of opinions.
"I'd tell them to go to hell!" cried one friend.
"If I were you, I would never speak to them again," said another.
"What's the big deal? Just visit occasionally and don't push any buttons," urged yet another.
"I think you should just crash the event and show up together!" advised a fourth.
In my opinion, we all have a choice in life. You can live in fear, or you can live in light. Once I calmed down and centered myself, I realized that this person is not trying to be hurtful. They are simply fearful of being different. They live in an isolated area where everyone is the same color and same religion. In their desire for a sense of community, they abide by the same rules and the exact same lifestyle. But in the end, they are living in fear of being different.
I understand why some of our friends think we should expel them from our lives. As humans, we tend to go on the offensive when we feel rejected. Our guard goes up, and we retaliate. Something in my heart tells me that this isn't the right choice for me. I know that this person is in my life to challenge us to be stronger, just as we are here to challenge them.
I forget that as a gay man, I am still a pioneer. My marriage is not recognized within my own country. I can't donate blood. I can't adopt children in certain states and countries, and heaven help an openly gay person who lives in Iran or Jamaica! Now I am also not welcome to a family event.
"What do you want to do?" I asked David.
"Well, I'm not going alone. It's not right," he said.
"Well, we could show up in drag. I could be Bonnie Mitzvah!"
"Stop joking!" David chuckled.
After careful consideration, David and I agreed that we wanted to be there to honor Jonah. He is turning 13 and will have one of the most important days of his life. He loves us, and he is an innocent bystander in this situation. His parents told him that I wasn't invited to the synagogue service because I wasn't Jewish.
The fearful part of my brain doesn't want to go where people are ashamed of me. It would be easy to move into my own community and be with people who are exactly the same. But I know in my heart that isolation isn't going to help our world progress. So together we pledge to be strong. We all have a purpose, and I believe that ours it to live in the light and be pioneers of diversity. David and I will attend the party. We will hold our heads high and demand to be treated as equals. There will be no arguing. There will be no drama. (Although I would be lying if I didn't say that I fantasize about David and me grabbing each other in the middle of dancing the hora and making out -- can you imagine the hora on people's faces?!)
In my thoughts, prayers, and meditation, I keep asking the universe why this has to hurt so much. What is the lesson behind it all? It feels easy to be angry. It feels easy to be hurt. I try to remind myself of the progress we have made with his family. We have visited Israel together, as they pridefully showed me the country they are from. They have started slowly introducing us to some of their friends. We have celebrated several holidays together in the past few years, and each gathering is better than the last.
There are still many mountains to climb. But when I am centered, I realize the layers of lessons there are for me on this journey. There is the lesson of compassion, the lesson of forgiveness, and, most importantly, the lesson of acceptance. Whenever I have a disagreement with a friend, business partner, or family member, my one request is that we be able to talk about the topic. After seeing clients for 15 years, I know that people simply want to feel heard. Everyone wants to know that their opinion matters, that they will have a chance to express themselves and their side of the story. I may not agree with you; I may be hurt or offended. But as long as we can negotiate and learn from each other, I am available to talk.
I know in my heart that someday this will all be behind me. The children on David's side of the family will accept us with open hearts and understand what we all went through to maintain our ties and stay together as a family.
And now I'd like to know: where is there resistance in your life? Is there someone you constantly clash with? Remember that we all have soul contracts with our loved ones. They come into our lives for a reason. Ironically enough, it's the most challenging relationships that stand to bring us the most light and learning.
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