Last year, our development decided to change the way our mail gets delivered. As a result, we now have cluster boxes. This presents a challenge anytime a substitute delivery person is called in–many of us have addresses that are identical except for the addition or subtraction of a letter. Misdelivered mail appears in our box routinely now, almost always for our neighbors Sara and Phil who share the same numerical prefix as Kris and me.
A few months ago we mistakenly received a box of Phil’s new checks, and I dutifully walked the package next door that very day. On other occasions, Sara or Phil have brought misplaced credit cards offers and bank statements to our door. This is the Christian thing to do, a fact that while not relevant to Kris and me is important to Sara and Phil, fundamentalist Christians who have chosen to homeschool their three sons in order to insulate them from the perceived vagaries of a secular education.
When we first found out we were living alongside right-wing fundies, Kris and I were a wee bit nervous. We can only imagine–and often have, to entertain ourselves–what Phil and Sara must have thought half a dozen years ago when a couple of lesbians and their dogs moved into the empty house next door. But they have been nothing but kind to us from the start, and their youngest son Aaron, who was only three when we moved in, is an enthusiastic helper with many of our outdoor projects. Sure, he dresses in camouflage head-to-toe pretty much 24/7 and, with the help of an older brother, has built trenches in the back yard to facilitate more realistic reenactments of key World War I battles. But despite the Jesus Camp images that occasionally flash before my eyes when I see the miniature Rambo next door lobbing pine cone grenades at invisible enemies, I generally believe that Kris and I have a good relationship with Phil and Sara and their boys.
Still, our friends and family members know that we’re occasionally uneasy about the veracity of our neighbors’ apparent good will, given the cultural divide that exists between the majority of gay folks and Christian fundamentalists. Those who know our situation were universally surprised to learn that when a storm last Thanksgiving kept Kris and me snowbound at home, we accepted Phil’s invitation to cross the yard (careful to avoid any yawning trenches) and broke bread with our right-wing fundie neighbors.
Admittedly, there were a few iffy moments over dinner, like when we informed Sara that Kris was five months pregnant with our future daughter, or when Phil asked to try my gluten-free, vegan stuffing. But overall, we had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with the welcoming family we know best out of anyone in our neighborhood.
A few weeks ago, the mail delivery went awry again. I was just back from the cluster boxes going through a stack of mail we hadn’t bothered to pick up for days when I noticed the return address on the envelope I’d opened: Focus on the Family. Or, Focus Hatred on Gay and Lesbian Families, as I like to call them. This group is a right-wing fundamentalist organization that opposes gay civil marriage and insists (despite the voluminous research that proves otherwise) that children raised by gay and lesbian parents experience irreparable harm. Their hateful messages are delivered, as many such messages are these days, in the guise of Christian love and concern for “the family,” a definition that most certainly does not include Kris, me, and our daughter.
Why were they writing us, I wondered in a moment of knee-jerk paranoia as I held up the envelope for closer inspection. Had they somehow found out about our daughter’s birth and were targeting us personally? Then I noticed the address label: Phil and Sara, our next door neighbors. Of course. The envelope hadn’t been intended for our family at all. I set it down on the table and wiped my hands on my jeans, as if I could rub away the slightly sick feeling that came with the realization that the neighbors we chatted with on a daily basis, the people we’d shared Thanksgiving Dinner with last year, were somehow connected to an organization actively working to undermine our rights to civil liberty and the pursuit of our own version of happiness.
Here arose a quandary. I had already opened the envelope and begun to pull out the letter enclosed therein. Should I slide it back in and walk it next door unread? Was it illegal to read a letter that had been delivered to you and that you had already opened by mistake? And how could I as a member of the organization’s target group refrain from destroying the piece of hate propaganda in my hands?
The letter was already open, so I have to admit that I skimmed it quickly and discovered that it was the cover page for a newsletter sent out to monthly donors to Focus on the Family. Then I slipped it back in the envelope and set it aside to deal with later.
Hypothetically, I may have carried the letter into my office and left it in the pile of non-emergency mail to be gone through at a future unspecified date.
Or I may have walked it next door that same day. I might have knocked on Sara and Phil’s door and handed the envelope over with a friendly smile: “This appeared in our mailbox today, and I thought I should bring it by.”
Or I might have left it on their front stoop with a post-it that read, “Oops–got this by mistake. 🙂 Kate, Kris, and Alex.”
Or the note might have read, “Found this in our mailbox today. Realized it wasn’t meant for our family. – Your neighbors.”
What isn’t hypothetical is the feeling of betrayal that washed over me, the inescapable sense that Sara and Phil’s friendliness over the years might really have been masking their horror at having to live next door to a genuine–gasp–lesbian family. They know nothing of our marriage in Massachusetts, and they probably never will because our relationship, in their eyes, is invalid, unequal, a violation of God’s law. Love the sinner, not the sin, and all that hypocritical, judgmental bunk.
Amy Ray of Indigo Girls fame has a fabulous solo song, “Let it Ring,” that challenges the purported Christian underpinnings of right-wing fundamentalist attacks on gays and lesbians. Each time I think of the misdelivered letter debacle (I mean, what are the odds that the Focus on Family newsletter would mistakenly be delivered to the lone lesbian family on the block?), I remember a stanza from Amy Ray’s song:
You can cite the need for wars
Call us infidels or whores
Either way we’ll be your neighbor
So let it ring.
Since the letter incident, I have avoided Sara and Phil and even Aaron and his brothers, to some degree. When I take Alex and the dogs out for our semi-usual afternoon walk, I make sure my headphones are on and I pretend not to notice anyone out in the yard. We haven’t brought our daughter next door to say hello since the first pre-letter visit we made shortly after Kris had recovered from the birth. It has been an egregiously rainy spring, so it’s possible they haven’t noticed our reticence. But I have.
That’s why I was doubly surprised when a knock sounded at our door a few days ago, and there was Sara standing on our front stoop, a baby gift bag in hand. We invited her in and introduced her to Kris’s father, who was visiting from the Midwest. And then we opened the gift bag to find a brilliant, multi-colored baby blanket that Sara had knitted for our daughter.
“I’m sorry it took me so long to finish it,” she said. “I was working on one for another friend in our church, and I just finished them both.”
As we thanked her and chatted about Alex and the abysmal spring that had kept us all indoors of late, I thought of the shadow cast by the letter that had found its way into our home. I thought of how one of my friends at work suggested we were broadening our neighbors’ minds by being friendly to them despite their probable belief that we were bound for hell. I thought of how Phil and Sara’s fundie friends might be telling them the same thing–show the lesbians next door kindness so that they may be won over to the right path. I thought of how Kris’s father said that it was possible that Sara and Phil had been donors to Focus Hatred in the past but weren’t anymore, that the mailing was an attempt to reach out to lapsed donors who no longer supported their hate-filled mission. I thought of how it was possible, just maybe, that the friendship between our two families is genuine, despite our cultural and ideological differences.
Or maybe it’s just that everyone loves the hope implicit in the birth of a baby, Christians and non-believers alike.