“My sister was my best friend when we were growing up, but that changed when we were teenagers,” she said, standing in the spotlight on stage amidst the other members of the chorus. She paused. “She became interested in boys and I didn’t.”
All of us in the audience laughed, but our laughter faded as she described what happened next. She told her family she was gay and they refused to accept it. She told them she loved a woman, but her family would not acknowledge them as a couple. Instead, they called the woman she loved a “roommate.”
When her younger sister announced her marriage plans, the woman’s family gave her ultimatum–come alone to the wedding or don’t come at all. “I did not go,” she said.
Their relationship improved over the years as members of her family tried to mend the rift. Her sister divorced. Her parents divorced, and still her own partnership endured.
But now, her sister is re-marrying. “I want to go the wedding and bring my partner, the woman I have loved for over 20 years,” she told us. But again, her family said, “Come alone.”
“What should I do?” she asked the audience.
“Don’t go,” someone shouted from the back of the theater.
She nodded and paused. “I’m not going,” she said and people started to cheer. “I refuse to go if they don’t recognize who I am and the woman I love.”
Alone in the spotlight, she paused and looked out at us in the audience. We were still applauding as she left the stage.
It is days later and I am still thinking of her courage, which is humbling and immense. It reminds me how, many years ago, I said “no,” to my family when they objected to the man I loved and wanted to marry because of his religion. Like the woman in the theater, I said “no” to the people who were supposed to love me unconditionally, and in doing so, I claimed my own happiness. In fighting for the life I wanted, with the man I loved and still love, I have taken a new path in life which has brought me immense joy.
History books are written about people with courage. We erect statues to them. Perhaps they battled against governments, against invading armies, against oppressors, against diseases, against basic human rights. But there are thousands of others who fight nearly alone, who take tremendous risks to do what their hearts and minds tell them is the right thing to do. And in doing so, they stake their own claims for happiness. This is what you and I do when we break from the old scripts, the old paths and start anew. It is not easy. In fact, saying “no” was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But it has liberated me, just as it will liberate you. It will take us into new territory, and fill us with unexpected joy.
And so, I wish you courage, my friends, as you say no to the people who want to write your scripts, who want to tell you how you should live your life. I applaud you as you say “no” and stake your claim to happiness.