A week or so ago I discovered that my children's book character, Rumplepimple, was featured as Unicorn of the Week by HuffPost Live. The designation honors people for doing something positive for the LGBT community. I rode that high for a few days, laughing with pride at the wonderful silliness of the award. And then I met a 20-year-old man with huge, dark eyes, round cheeks and a fractured heart, and my laughter came to an abrupt halt.
I'll call him Adi here to protect his privacy, and perhaps his safety.
We met through a Facebook group for LGBT people of varying faiths. On July 29 Adi came out to his father and joined the group, shyly introducing himself. Two days later, he attended his first pride parade. In Jerusalem.
Early in the day Adi posted a picture of his face painted with rainbow stripes high up on each cheekbone. His expressive, dark-ringed eyes shone with anticipation of the exciting new thing he was about to experience. Later that day he posted again, this time shell shocked by what he'd witnessed. Adi was positioned right where the parade exploded. He was there, stricken and watching, as 16-year-old Shira Banki was fatally stabbed.
In the course of a short week I've become friends with Adi, sending messages of encouragement and watching as his grief unfolds online. I've scrolled through the news coverage of the horror, and looked at the stunning photos of Yishai Schlissel first pulling the knife from the depths of his black jacket, then lifting it above his head, then plunging it between the shoulder blades of a girl in a lime green tee shirt. In the early pictures half of the spectators are turned away, smiling and chatting, unaware of what is happening. The other half remain forever frozen in poses of reaction. One young girl in a flowered dress shrinks into herself as she sees the knife about to fall toward the person next to her. A few people's backs are turned to the camera, hunched and blurred as they try to rush away from the knife. From what Adi describes, these photos must have been snapped very close to where he stood. When I look at them I see some small part of the horror he witnessed.
Shira means song or poem in Hebrew, and Adi's posts this week have been in the form of poetry. I can't read Hebrew and Facebook's automatic translation reads as prose, so I am left to imagine the lyrical flow he crafted in his native language. He recently posted a video of himself singing a song that he couldn't get out of his head when thinking about Shira. His voice is imperfect, not always hitting the notes he searches for, but bereft and haunting. He writes that he can't sleep, can't erase the images from his mind, can't understand.
I imagine Schlissel's eyes being the hardest thing to forget, those eyes that burn and stare from a face that seems otherwise devoid of emotion.
That same deranged, determined mindset is alive and thriving here in the United States. I have another friend who writes and travels extensively to teach about why homosexuality and the Bible are not mutually exclusive. She recently posted a Facebook screenshot in which members of a fanatical anti-gay "Christian" group called her a whore and spewed all sorts of righteousness-fueled hatred. The final comment in the screenshot read "Maybe some boyz should go visit her." She asked me not to include her name or where this is happening, not wanting to pull additional crazies out of the woodwork and potentially put her host organization at risk.
This is scary stuff.
Given the press Rumplepimple has received about its inclusion of same-sex parents, we've wondered if we would also receive threats. So far the ugliness has been generalized and hasn't hinted at violence, which leaves me both relieved and feeling a tiny bit guilty.
Shira was just a girl, there at the parade to support her gay friends. Adi is just a young man, given less than two days to days to enjoy the freedom of having told the truth about who he is. Now she is dead, and he has become a haunted. And I'm here safe behind my computer.
I used to hold a very Catholic view of homosexuality. I was a firebrand, crafting apologetics about intrinsic disorder and the value of self-denial. I never went as far as thinking that natural disasters were due to the actions of "the gays." I didn't even think they would burn in hell. But I argued hard about why it was wrong. And then an incredible woman named Diane waltzed into my church and everything changed. She is my wife now. Together we explore concepts of how faith, love, and sex intersect, and I create silly children's books which include two mommies and transgender cats. Every day I hope and pray that I make some tiny bit of difference.
But like Adi, I can't wipe Schlissel's staring eyes from my mind. And I can't get rid of the idea that my eyes might have looked like his, when I tried to defend the world against homosexuality, cutting hearts instead of flesh, but just as certain of my rightness.
I can't erase those images. All I can do is keep writing.