I learned as a child a principle that I have lived by my entire life. “When you see a need, you become responsible to address that need” and the corollary to that principle is “When you are asked, determine how you will say yes.”
When I swam on a swim team in La Grande, Oregon, I raised money for the team through asking for donations per lap. Every year we knocked on doors, asking for community support. And, at La Grande First Baptist Church, we learned how to tithe to our Church and raise money for summer camp visits.
Since my college years, I have served communities where I have lived for over two decades. I have worked in grassroots organizations striving for equality among different groups, helping youth receive services they desperately needed, led business organizations when other leaders needed to focus elsewhere. I have recruited volunteers and board members for many organizations. One organization is still running 17 years after I developed its bylaws and recruited a board, yet I have often been a part of other organizations that are no longer needed, or were merged into other organizations for a myriad of reasons.
I have followed those two principles. When I see a need, I am responsible in some way to address it. And, when I am asked to serve, I determine how I may serve.
Beyond the thousands of volunteer hours I have contributed to my communities, there are few who match my passion, but those who do, I fear at times I may never achieve the level of influence they have through their caring, their consistency, their vision, and their wisdom.
Fortunately, one of them is someone who for years, I simply knew as my Aunt Doris. She is a woman who taught preschool kids. A woman my mom not so secretly revered. And, for my mother to revere someone, well, let’s just say, a son takes note.
I didn’t know what made my Aunt so special. She seems like any other woman who raises kids, gets frustrated with kids, has a husband who didn’t turn out to be superman, who certainly has her own idiosyncrasies. Like anyone else, she worked, she loved, and she cared for her family. Yet, she has done more.
After retiring from her work of influencing preschool children most of her adult life, she stayed involved. She joined the Friends or Quakers, served as the Clerk of the Quakers group in Redding, CA. If you have lived or been through Redding, I am sure you just took a step back to consider that position. Not the center of liberal thought, I will tell you.
Yet, she has served on additional boards, from serving to address multicultural issues in Redding, to making sure access for children less privileged have access to facilities where they can learn to think, could learn to interact, and may one day become the leaders of tomorrow.
But, she moved me recently, this Aunt of 77.
Background of Eric in relation to Aunt
Many years ago, nearly 20 years ago, I was filmed driving Portland Chief of Police Potter in a Gay Pride Parade. It was one of my earliest volunteer assignments with an organization. No one else could drive a stick shift on the committee. And, considering one of my first driving experiences was a 1963 International Scout, I can pretty much drive anything with four wheels. Originally, I thought nothing of driving an old classic car in the parade. And, it wasn’t for someone that significant. It wasn’t someone I thought would be important to my life. In fact, wasn’t a police chief the guy you saw on old Batman reruns? He didn’t have any impact in my life. In fact, it was going to be a great parade; no one would even notice I was there.
I was just slightly wrong. Tom Potter, the Chief of Police in Portland at the time, was in fact making a stand. His daughter, a lesbian, needed his support. And, he saw the need, he was asked, and he did determined what he could do best. He became the highest ranking uniformed police official in the country to participate in a gay pride parade. And, in the political environment of the anti-gay initiatives of Portland, it made a very big impact. That evening, the news anchors howled about a Chief of Police endorsing the Parade, but what was missed by them, was the exposure a 23 year old who wasn’t out to his family, much less a community. When the Oregon Citizens Alliance demanded Police Potter’s resignation, and didn’t get it, the same 5 seconds of film rolled for over three weeks.
But, after all the exposure, there was not a sound from my family.
In October 1991, I was asked to debate the media director of the OCA, Scott Lively, on cable access. I thought, “No big Deal.” It would be a Thursday night. No one watches cable access. And, even if they did, my parents would be at Choir Practice. The debate was a success, and not until two weeks later did I learn how cable access areas share media, thus an entire state watched a debate on whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to teach in school, have state licenses, or be given any level of equality of protection.
But, after all the exposure, there was not a sound from my family. Except, with the exposure, I knew I had to honor my parents, and inform them of my political stance of inclusion, and my religious belief about gays, and my own self discovery process to accept my orientation. All something we couldn’t do by providing a book at that time.
The first years were atrociously harsh. My mother said nothing and my dad used every holiday as a forum for attacking my faith, my politics, and worse, my orientation. By the end of 1993, I was prepared to divorce my family, both sides, so as not to have to deal with the silence, the judgment and the anger.
But, after some intense discussions, our family agreed to a truce of sorts. The wounds might never heal, the views may never change, but we could once again see each other as family. But, the lack of acceptance was still there. The silence could be deafening. But, the values we held did not allow for us to leave, to abandon or to avoid each other.
My Aunt’s Influence
Then, after years of being a bystander, caring for her own children, my Aunt entered my life. For years, living a state away, she began visiting, reaching out to family beyond her kids, and I began to learn about her. She learned my history, my hurt, my background. And, she listened, she began to serve, and she extended her love.
Where my parents weren’t able to accept, she did. Where my parents haven’t been able to acknowledge, she acknowledged. And, where I couldn’t understand, she agreed that she couldn’t understand, either. And, she was related! No way!
Where I had no family relation who related, she has stood up, grabbed hold, and moved forward.
In the last 10 years, without asking, I have started to organize the family reunions. And, my Aunt is the one who sends a note to express her appreciation that I care about keeping such a diverse family together. See, in our family, we have warriors and pacifists, liberal democrats and right wing republicans. In our family, we have several Catholics, Baptists, Quakers, and Lutherans. So, diving into debate requires a tad bit more wine and beer than many might think. For without these gatherings, it would be more difficult for her to maintain her connection with family.
My family is frustrating in one very interesting way. They don’t know how to use a phone. They can pick it up, but they can’t seem to dial. Since I am in sales, apparently this disability has been driven from my natural DNA, so I am an exception. I make a lot of outbound calls. But, since my Aunt has lost her husband, her DNA has adjusted somewhat as well. Our 45 minute visits monthly keep us informed about the four families on my mother’s side. And, with my sister, we keep everyone in touch.
See, my sister and I vie for our Aunt’s position of “favorite”. And, while I know my sister may achieve the title instead of me, I am happy to be a runner up. I can’t compete with a sister who has mastered the art of Home Depot remodeling. I cannot reorganize a garage in 2 days, and a garage sale in one more. While my sister can argue with the best construction worker about how to complete a project, that isn’t my expertise.
My only skill is my ability to pick up the phone, listens, and see a future. And, seeing a future, make plans to help it along the way. And, I think my Aunt understands that just a little, seeing that she has helped thousands of people see their futures.
Yes, my Aunt Doris is an amazing woman. But, she continues to amaze me with her ability to see what I need, when I don’t think I have a need any longer. Recently, she got on the phone to tell me that she attended the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus when they visited Redding, CA. It was in response to the Proposition 8 issue that has divided Californians over gay marriage. She was thrilled to be in attendance, in a sold out venue.
And, at the end of the story while sharing this event, she shared something even more impactful to me. At 77, she joined the Redding, CA Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
She, without a request from me, without me expressing a need or desire, she perceived an unmet need. She must have sensed a need that family accept and support family. Without a word, or an expression of encouragement from me, she heard a secret hope that I have had since being in a Gay Pride Parade in 1991. At Gay Prides since 1989, I have watched this group, PFLAG, and have wished I could see a family member of mine walking with them. But, then reality would set in, and I would push that wish down deep, and not let the disappointment chill the very air at the parade.
She demonstrated her acceptance and favor for me. And, she must have deduced that my biggest desire would be that family would stand with me, yet my parents could not and would not. So she has determined how she could meet that secret desire. At 77, Doris Bond, one of my favorite people, did what I didn’t even know I needed her to do. She did something that for me can heal hearts and hurts, bring family together, and change views that create division.
She does what I have wished since I saw a group of mothers and fathers walk in partnership with their children, supporting their children’s right to love whom they chose. And, when my mother couldn’t do it, for whatever reason my Aunt could. My Aunt has done what I felt no one would ever do. She represented me, in the one organization in which I am the benefactor, but could never be a member.
She quietly stands as a leader in her home, her family and her community – and can miraculously see a need, determines how to say yes, and is amazing in her ability to do both.
And to Aunt Doris:
Thank you, Aunt Doris, for a life of loving, caring, and continued impact on myself, my family, and communities from San Diego, CA to Portland, Oregon, to La Grande, Oregon.
I hope your next 10 years are as impactful as your last 78. Because the last 15 have brought tears of hope, smiles of joy, and at least one heart that can see a brighter future because of what you do, out of love.
Your Nephew (and favorite nephew)