Spontaneity and Awakening in DC

(I wrote this in response to Stray musings on openness, optimism, and pleasant surprises.)

“Good things happen. But more of them happen if you’re open to the possibility. And if you start from that premise, you’re less likely to miss the good things that might be happening around you while you’re grumbling and staring down at the sidewalk.”

Funny you should say this, because I’m finding that more and more in my own experience. I had a similarly positive experience on Amtrak from DC to Hartford the same day as your trip. We were only four minutes late. But this summer has been an education in being open to the new and the good in whatever forms they take.

Being in DC exposes you to a lot. I’m still terrifically shy, but I’ve managed to talk to loads of interesting people. And the most memorable encounters have been unplanned and spontaneous – not exactly in my social comfort zone.

For instance, one night I needed to get out of my apartment. I’d been sitting in my room too long staring at a computer screen, and it was too late for any kind of excursion. So I sat on a bench outside the lobby of my building. A tall, dark-haired man with a wide build approached me, offering me a cigarette in passable English. I declined politely. He told me that I looked like I had something on my mind. (I guess that’s my default.) We proceeded to talk for almost an hour and a half; I learned that he had been studying English in America for only a few months, and that he was from Saudi Arabia. We discussed everything from American and Saudi culture to women and dating. He admired America’s religious liberty, something he found his own country lacking. He did, however, scoff at many American women he perceived as promiscuous; all the while, he was working up the courage to ask out a girl who was moving out of the building imminently. (I could relate.)

He asked me whether I believed in God and I told him I didn’t really know. As a Muslim, he tried to address some of my doubts about the existence of God and said that prayer made him feel good, knowing that Allah is with him.

This whole conversation happened because I left my apartment. He started talking to me, but it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been out there.

And then there was my day at the Supreme Court, which was as close as I’ve come to a political and personal baptism.

I’d been checking Scotusblog like clockwork, Monday/Thursday/Friday, physically and psychologically bracing for the impact of King v. Burwell. I’d been thinking about the utter lunacy of the case and how a badly written sentence could have thrown millions of American lives into chaos. One headline after another read the same thing: “we’re probably fucked.” Eventually I had to just let it go – whatever would happen would happen. When the 6-3 ruling was announced, I felt relief, not just because of the result, but because of John Roberts’ reasoning: he interpreted the passage in the context of the law. It seems that common sense can still prevail, on occasion.

I remembered that another big case had yet to be announced: Obergefell v. Hodges. I’d assumed the Supreme Court would rule in favor of gay marriage, and I’d barely given it a second thought. However, it occurred to me, like the other case I’d been watching so intently, it was happening right outside my cubicle. There would be a crowd of thousands, elated or devastated, depending on the verdict, and I had to be among them. For some reason, I knew it would be decided that Friday, the day after King v. Burwell. I just had a feeling.

That day, the Library of Congress interns had a mandatory tour of the stacks from 9:00am to 10:00am. Having already been in the stacks (and seen your contributions to the Library’s collection) I was annoyed that the tour might prevent me from being outside the Supreme Court the moment the decision went down. The whole tour I was distracted. When it ended, I made a beeline for the first door I could find out of the Jefferson building.

Running parallel to me was a girl from my intern group, who up until this point I had not spoken to. I gathered from her velocity that she was headed the same way as me. I asked her if she was and she said yes.

I saw young people in suits sprinting toward the Capitol building, packets in hand. (I would learn that these were congressional interns racing to deliver decisions to their respective members, a time-honored tradition known as “the running of the interns.”) In front of the Supreme Court was a crowd of hundreds, probably thousands, cheering with an immediacy and urgency that made me think gay marriage had just been legalized.

Approaching the crowd, I introduced myself to the girl. Her name was Kyra, a rising junior government major at William and Mary. This was not her first time at the Court. She lived nearby, and in her high school years she’d been an LGBT activist. She had just taken the same Civil Rights and Civil Liberties class that I did last year. We had quite a bit in common.

As we talked, we inched through the crowd. It heartened me to see so many different kinds of people there: the young, the old, whites, blacks, the well-dressed, the hideously dressed, the LGBT, and the straight; signs that read “Catholics for Marriage Equality,” “Baptists for Marriage Equality,” and “Evangelicals for Marriage Equality.”

Christians showed up in full force.

Christians showed up in full force.

People right in front of me were being interviewed, with tape recorders in their faces. A woman offered Kyra and me signs that said “America is Ready for the Freedom to Marry.” We held them high and melded with the crowd. A man with what looked like a TV camera asked if he could shoot us holding the signs, and we agreed. Somewhere out there is footage of me in a very good mood.

After about 45 minutes, we started to head out, but stopped to listen to the Gay Men’s Chorus sing. Their peaceful, melodic harmony enriched the celebration.

The Gay Men's Choir.

The Gay Men’s Choir.

Kyra and I approached the Jefferson Building, and I knew I needed to ask her out. We had too much in common, and I had just had too much fun to let that moment just slip by and become just another lost opportunity. So I asked if she wanted to hang out over the weekend, and she said yes.

I feel like, to some people, that moment would have just been a given, but it’s never been so easy for me. I had never been able to so effortlessly bypass the anxiety and fear that prevented me from doing that. I got the fuck out of my own way for once.

And in less than an hour, I witnessed massive political change happen. The buildup of decades of activism and fighting against overt hatred and the even more powerful bigotry of the status quo that Doug Muder of the Weekly Sift talks about. Even I had been getting pretty cynical by this point, but to see it actually happen, in front of me – it felt life changing.

Good things happen.

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