Brave Kiss

Enlightened society includes everyone. How could it be otherwise? We are taught that there is no separation – between you and me. Yet our fear gets in the way of seeing and reaching for the basic goodness in each other. Some decades ago, I had an experience with someone apparently very different from me that cut right through that fear.

James Boggs kissed me on the lips. A black man in his 60’s at the time, son of an Alabama sharecropper. He had a high school education, and had worked on the Cadillac assembly line in Detroit for 20 years. He and his Chinese-American wife, Grace Lee Boggs, headed up a grass-roots political organization called the National Organization for an American Revolution (NOAR).

He, and Grace, and the mostly African-American co-founders of NOAR had recruited me and the largely gay members of our white activist commune. They knew that any successful effort to really change our nation and culture would have to involve all kinds of Americans. They knew that if they wanted to meet the needs of everyone, and help all of us realize our potential, they would need to embrace everyone from the get go.

I don’t think they were looking for queers in particular. I think it was a real stretch for them. But they saw us as serious about working for real change, and their integrity made them let go of any suspicion or fear of the “other.” Their own genuine commitment and belief in themselves allowed them to see our genuineness.

James, or Jimmy as he liked to be called, knew I was gay. But I played it down, partly out of deference to him and his many decades of movement work and partly out of fear of his judgment. He and I were sitting side by side in the back seat of a car on the way home from an outreach/recruiting meeting I had helped organize and where he had spoken. He was waxing on about how he thought there were people in that meeting worth talking more to.

It was dark in the car. I could see little more in his dark brown face than the whites of his eyes and his teeth. I was tired from the weeks of organizing work to set up the meeting. I was winding down and looking forward to getting to bed when we pulled up in front of my house, where they would drop me off. I lifted my back-pack from the floor to my lap and put my hand on the door handle.

Jimmy said, “You did good work for tonight, Michael. Get some rest.”

Then I felt his hand around my shoulder. I turned my head to face him, and he tilted his toward mine – and kissed me. Full on – not a peck, an embrace. With that, he crossed a desert of ignorance and distrust, across the barriers of race and class and sexual orientation. His courage taught me there is every reason to give each other what we need, and that it takes intention, compassion, and skillful means, and like the Sakyong has said, believing the impossible is possible.

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