THE ACCEPTANCE OF LOVE

Christine McIntyre had done everything she could to treat her patient with compassion and sensitivity – but she could not bring herself to approve of his lifestyle.

Standing at the front door of the beautiful suburban home, she was confident that in this case, just like all the others she’d been assigned to, the patient had benefited from her knowledge and experience. She reminded herself that she had become a hospice nurse because she wanted to assist individuals, and their families, during the most vulnerable time in their lives. But it still troubled Christine that the deceased was a gay man and, according to her religious beliefs, he had been living in sin.

From the beginning, it had been an unusual situation. Anthony, who had stage 4 cancer, had been in some kind of accident many years before that caused the quadriplegia he lived with for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately, on her final visit, she had accidentally left behind a folder containing some papers, and when Martin, his partner, discovered them, he called the office. Although the papers were nothing more than generic handouts regarding services the organization offered, her supervisor insisted that she wait an appropriate amount of time after the funeral and then go back to retrieve them.

She had called earlier to ask Martin if she could stop by, and she was surprised by how weak and tired he sounded on the phone. Although seeing him again was the last thing she wanted to do, here she was on a late weekday afternoon.

As she stood on the porch hesitating, it suddenly dawned on her that the house seemed different. But how could that be? She was just here ten days ago. She stepped back to take a look, and she realized the house had a fresh coat of paint. She also noticed there were new window shutters and that a row of flowering shrubs had been planted. She wondered if the interior was still the same.

Christine thought to herself that it sure didn’t long for Martin to start redecorating, but apparently, that was what these people loved to do. Still, she couldn’t help but think that it showed a certain disrespect to be making such changes so quickly after a funeral.

She took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

It took quite a while for Martin to respond and when he opened the door, Christine took one look at him and instantly felt guilty. The sight of his deterioration made her gasp.

“Oh no! Martin you don’t look well.” The disheveled man in front of her barely resembled the person she had met for the first time just six weeks before. He had not shaved in days, and his eyes were bloodshot with deep dark half-moons etched under them. His face was the same shade of gray as a cloud-filled sky, and he appeared to be so unsteady that she worried he might collapse at her feet. His physical decline made him look at least a decade older than his sixty-three years.

“When was the last time you slept?”

Martin shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter.”

“Yes, it does. It’s important to take care of yourself. You’ve been through so much that it’s taking a terrible toll on your body.”

“Well, it’s been difficult to sleep. After so many years of taking care of Anthony, I feel lost. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now. I just keep wanting to check on him, out of habit I guess.”

He opened the door wider, and Christine stepped inside. She glanced around the room and saw that, unlike the outside of the house, nothing had changed. However, with everything that had happened, Martin had still managed to keep the front room clean and organized. She thought to herself that she should be so good at keeping her home tidy, but as a working single mother with two small children, it was impossible.

Martin said, “I have your folder.” The weariness in his voice was troubling, but she reminded herself that he was no longer receiving hospice services, and, therefore, her responsibility was finished. She watched him slowly shuffle over to a table and pick up the black binder.

“Thank you, Martin. I’m sorry I had to disturb you.”

“That’s okay……I know you never wanted to come back here again.”

His abruptness caught her by surprise. “No, it’s not that. It’s just that when the services of our organization are no longer needed –”

“You mean when your patient dies.”

“Yes. Typically we have no more contact with the……” She paused for several seconds and searched for the words.

Finally, Martin said, “You can’t even bring yourself to say the word family, can you?”

Christine could feel her face turning a bright crimson and she didn’t like it. “I was going to say your friend or partner……you know, whatever Anthony was to you.”

Martin shook his head. “He was both of those. Maybe it would make you feel more comfortable to just think of him as a loved one I cared about. That removes the gender aspect for you.”

Christine was starting to feel angry over Martin’s tone. She knew he had been through a lot, but he didn’t have the right to take his grief out on her.

He looked at her and read the expression on her face. “Christine, I apologize. Please forgive me, I’m just tired. You did everything you could for Anthony – and for me as well. I will always appreciate the kindness you showed us.”

Christine nodded, “Forget it. I’m just sorry that you had to go through it.” She wanted to be on her way as quickly as possible so she turned to go.

Martin hesitated because he didn’t want to appear needy, but he felt compelled to take a chance. In a voice that was almost pleading, he asked, “Could you sit down for a minute? Are you in a hurry?”

She was surprised by his invitation and slightly annoyed. She did not want to continue this conversation, but when she looked at him, his spirit seemed broken and she felt like she had no choice. “No, I’m in no hurry. In fact, I’m done for the day.”

They sat down in large comfortable chairs with only a small table between them. Sitting in on the table was a framed photo of Martin and Anthony that must have been taken at least twenty years earlier.

Martin rubbed his eyes. “One of the side benefits of all your visits was having someone to talk to for a while.”

She could only imagine how lonely and isolating it had been to be Anthony’s caregiver for so many years.

They sat in uncomfortable silence for a short time and then Martin smiled grimly at her. “I know you must have a few questions. Go ahead, it’s okay to ask”

It was true. Christine was curious about the two men who she was convinced had led lives that needed God’s forgiveness, but she didn’t want to be rude. “Well, first of all, I noticed you had your house painted and there is new landscaping.”

Martin nodded. “It had to done.”

She thought it was an odd answer, but she reminded herself that he was exhausted.

In a reassuring voice, he said, “Go ahead and ask me what you really want to know. You entered our lives and played an important role in Anthony’s final days. You deserve some answers.”

“Okay. I admit I have wondered what kind of accident Anthony had. How was he injured?”

Martin shook his head and softly said, “It was no accident.”

Christine looked at him quizzically. She’d just assumed that Antony’s quadriplegia was caused by a car crash or something.

“It happened seventeen years ago. We had gone into the city to do some shopping, and we were just strolling down the sidewalk. It was crowded because it was a warm sunny day and people wanted to be outside. We weren’t talking about anything in particular, and I remember Anthony reached out and took hold of my hand. We continued walking for another minute or two and suddenly gunshots rang out. Anthony was hit first. The bullet entered the back of his head and lodged in his brain.

“Of course, he instantly collapsed and as I turned to kneel down next to him, I was hit just below my right shoulder blade. The bullet tore through my lung. I remember as I was falling, the gunman fired again. The third shot struck Anthony as he lay face down on the concrete, shredding his spine at the base of his neck.

“At that point, bystanders began to rush toward the shooter. He must have panicked because he dropped the gun and took off running.”

Christine was shocked. She had never imagined that Anthony’s disability was the result of such a horrific tragedy. When she was assigned the case, the patient medical history was incomplete.

“Martin, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“There’s no way you could’ve known because I didn’t provide the information. When I first asked for hospice care I wasn’t sure if I could get it since we were a gay couple.”

“We sometimes deal with patients who have HIV. In this day and age, sexual orientation is not an issue.”

Very gently, Martin said, “It is for you.”

Christine tried to resist feeling defensive, but she couldn’t help it. “That’s not fair. I gave Anthony the best care I possibly could.”

“I agree. You were very professional, and I know you made his last few weeks more comfortable. I will never forget what you did for him. But after so many of years of being judged, it’s not that difficult to tell when someone is uncomfortable around you.”

Christine was disappointed that he had been able to read her true feelings.

As a gay man, Martin had spent decades being judged, but somehow Christine seemed different. She was not hostile or belligerent. He felt like she was a genuinely good person whose point of view happened to be the result of her religious beliefs.

Christine looked at the exhausted man sitting across from her. “So it was life or death for both of you.”

“I was lucky. The bullet passed through my body, only striking my lung. I had several surgeries and recovered – but Anthony……”

He paused for a moment to compose himself. “Anthony barely survived. Despite endless medical procedures, they could not prevent his quadriplegia. But his physical condition was only part of the damage. Because the bullet destroyed significant areas of his brain, he never spoke again. On his good days, he recognized me – but in later years, there were long periods where he showed no awareness of who I was.

“One of the things I frequently did, was to sit with Anthony and show him pictures of us together. I would tell him about the life we shared and, of course, I made sure he knew how much I loved him. But he was never really able to respond in a way that made me feel certain that he understood we had chosen each other.”

Christine was touched by what he was sharing. “It could not have been easy taking care of Anthony all those years.”

Martin smiled. “True love is never easy, but it’s always worth the effort.”

“Some people might think that you went above and beyond what was expected.”

“I don’t think so. We made a commitment to each other, and I honored that commitment. And I know with all my heart, Anthony would have done the same for me. Just because our lives were changed didn’t mean I stopped loving him.”

Suddenly Christine realized it was hearing a gay man talk about love that made her uncomfortable, and without thinking, she said, “You really believe the two of you were in love? Wasn’t it more of a physical relationship?”

Martin put his head down and sighed. “I’ve never understood why straight people only think of gay partners in terms of sex. Believe me, sex was the least important part of our lives.”

She had to admit to herself that when she thought about two men being together, sex was the first thing she considered.

But Martin didn’t want to focus on that part of their relationship. Instead, he wanted to explain what drew him to his partner in the first place. “I will never forget the moment I met Anthony. It was thirty-six years ago at a showing he had at an art gallery. I was stunned by what an amazing painter he was. His artwork was so vivid and alive. And when I found out he enjoyed my writing, we just naturally developed a relationship based on our respect for each other as artists. Over time we grew closer. It happened the way it happens with any two people.”

Christine struggled to show no reaction to what she was hearing, but it wasn’t easy. She just couldn’t pretend that what she was hearing was normal.

Despite her efforts, Martin sensed her discomfort and said, “Please, share your thoughts. I’m interested in hearing what you think.”

“Okay. I understand what you are saying, but it is not the way it should be. I’m sorry but I don’t believe that God approves of your way of life.”

“God doesn’t approve or you don’t approve?”

“Both, I suppose. The Bible does not condone your behavior, so I can’t condone it either.”

“That is the problem with your position. You think of being gay as a type of behavior that I should be able to curb with willpower –”

“Or with prayer.”

“But it’s not a form of behavior. It’s who I am, just like you happen to be a straight female. Even if I was a person of faith, even if I embraced your particular set of beliefs and became a Christian, I would still be a gay man.”

“I honestly don’t see how you could be a gay Christian. You can’t just embrace the parts of the Bible that suit you and disregard the rest.”

“Well, let me ask you this. Do you believe that everyone has the right to be happy?”

“Yes.”

“Being in love with Anthony made me happier than you can imagine.”

“But just because something makes you happy doesn’t always mean you should do it. Consuming alcohol can make someone happy, but it can also destroy their life and the lives of those around them.”

“I don’t see how being in love with Anthony harmed other people. It might have made them feel uncomfortable, and it certainly made many of them judgmental but I honestly don’t think we hurt anyone by being together.”

Christine thought for a moment and decided it was pointless to continue arguing about the validity of the gay lifestyle so she circled back to the shooting. “So what happened to the person who shot you?”

“It only took the police a couple of hours to catch him, and it turned out to be a hate crime. His name was Donald Hubbard, and he admitted to the authorities that he couldn’t stand ‘homosexuals’. He said that when he saw us holding hands he just snapped. It turned out he had a long history of harassing the gay community, and he was charged with attempted murder.

“It took quite a while, but he finally went to trial and was found guilty. However, his conviction was eventually overturned on a technicality. He remains a free man who went unpunished after destroying two lives.”

“I can’t believe someone would actually commit such a crime.”

Martin fixed her with a steady gaze. “But you’re willing to believe that because Donald Hubbard accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, God will forgive him, right? Therefore, you’re convinced he will go to heaven and live forever – while I will suffer in eternal agony because I do not believe in the teachings of Christianity any more than I do any other religious faith. Isn’t that correct?”

Christine replied, “That’s not fair.”

“Do you think any of this is fair? That individual didn’t believe that Anthony and I had the right to be in love……Isn’t that how you feel?”

“I’m not saying you didn’t have the right –”

“But you believe we were living in sin.”

“Yes, but……wait a second. How can you know possibly know whether or not Mr. Hubbard is saved?”

“I admit it’s an assumption on my part, but I base it on the fact that, at the time of the attack, he was the associate pastor at a freewill protestant church.”

“What?!”

“That’s right.” Martin’s voice grew softer. “Of course when he was arrested, he lost that position. But once he was set free, even though the evidence presented against him at his trial was overwhelming, the church reinstated him. He is still the associate pastor to this day.”

It was evident to Christine that, even after all this time, it was still painful for Martin to talk about.

In almost a whisper he said, “I find it incomprehensible that they could forgive that man for attempting to murder two human beings – but they can’t forgive the two victims for being in love.”

Hearing that a pastor had committed the crime made Christine feel sick at her stomach. “Please don’t judge all Christians by the behavior of this one group.”

“I’m not judging anyone. I’m stating the facts.”

Christine did not how to respond.

After a long pause, Martin said, “Let me ask you a question. If you were in love with another consenting adult, how would you feel if people said you were wrong, that it wasn’t natural, that you were evil for wanting to share your life with that person? What if you were repeatedly told that it wasn’t really love at all but that it actually sin? How would you feel?”

“I don’t know.”

“How would you feel if someone tried to kill you for holding the hand of another human being?”

“There’s no way I can answer that.” Christine realized she could not begin to understand what Martin and Anthony had experienced. “I will say that, although no one has ever tried to hurt me because of my faith, I feel like Christians are discriminated against too. We are often ridiculed and the government does everything they can to keep us from practicing our religion in public. I mean they won’t even let us pray in school.”

“Are you ever tempted to stop being a Christian because you face rejection?”

“No. It’s who I am.”

Exactly. It is the same with being gay. No matter how miserable other people make our lives, it is who we are, and who we will always be. I can no more change the fact that I’m gay than I can change the fact that I happen to be Caucasian. All the praying in the world is not going to change my ethnicity any more than it is going to change my sexual orientation. Whether or not you approve of the person I am doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s those who disapprove who have the issues – not the gay community.”

Christine thought about his words for a few moments and then said, “Did people continue to make your life miserable after the shooting as well?”

“Unfortunately, because we were gay, the shooting created a lot of press and put us in the public eye. For years after the trial, I received hate mail telling me how happy someone was that I had to live with a queer who couldn’t walk and talk or that the only crime was that we weren’t actually killed. But thankfully it has slowed down in recent years.”

 “That’s disgusting. Did you report the letters to the police?”

“Yes, but they were not too interested in pursuing it.”

“Why would people do a thing like that?”

“People fear what they don’t understand. They feel threatened by gay people. However, Anthony and I lived a very quiet, private life. I don’t see how we were a threat to anyone. On the contrary we were frequently threatened, and, of course, the threat turned out to be heartbreakingly real.”

Martin hesitated before he asked the next question. “Do you fear gay people?”

“No, I’m not afraid of you. But I have to be honest and admit that I don’t understand your lifestyle, and I worry that it sets a bad example.”

“You call it a lifestyle, but we didn’t think of it in those terms. We were just two people who met, fell in love and decided to remain a couple. We trusted and respected each other. We took care of each other. Isn’t that what everyone does in a relationship? How is that a bad example?”

“Many people would say it is a bad example because God has ordained that it’s one man and one woman that make a union.”

Martin thought for a moment and decided it might be useful to try to understand why she held those views. “Okay, you’ve mentioned our ‘lifestyle’. Let’s talk about your decision to embrace your particular faith. After all, that is your lifestyle.”

Christine didn’t like having her Christianity demeaned as a lifestyle, but she knew it was only a real discussion if there was an even give and take. And besides, Martin had been willing to answer her questions.

In a respectful tone, he asked, “I assume you are a member of the denomination that you grew up in? That is usually the case.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Most people continue to embrace the teachings they were exposed to as a child. Did you know that studies also show that religion is geographical? Where you are born plays a significant role in which faith you adopt.”

“It doesn’t matter where I was born. I’m a Christian because the Bible is infallible, and I believe in God’s word.”

“I understand what you are saying, but statistics show that if you’d been born in Iran, you would most likely be a Muslim. If you had been born in India you would be Hindu. If you’d been born in the Northeastern part of the United States there would be a high probability that you would be Catholic.”

“No. You can’t reduce religion down to statistics. I believe because my faith is centered on the truth.”

“And a Muslim feels the same way about their faith. That is the basis of all religion. Everyone believes they are right and everyone else is wrong. That’s what causes all the strife and misunderstanding.”

“You may be right about that – but any faith that doesn’t have Jesus Christ at the center of it is false.”

“You are proving my point. All religion is judgmental. You are always comparing your faith to others and finding fault with them. Therefore, you are convinced that anyone who does not believe the way you do is wrong and deserves to be punished.”

Christine felt like she had to protest. “It’s not about judgment!”

“Of course it is. Isn’t that what you believe God does? Isn’t that why He exists? So He can judge each individual to determine whether they are worthy of being in his presence throughout all eternity?”

“None of us are worthy. That’s why we each need our Savior.”

“Yes! A savior to save you from God’s judgment.”

Christine realized he would never understand – but, to her surprise, she did find it interesting to hear a point of view that was diametrically opposed to hers.

Martin continued. “Have you ever considered why religion exists?” Before she could answer, he launched into his explanation. “As soon as human beings evolved into creatures intelligent enough to be aware of their own mortality, every culture on earth came up with a way to keep living after you die – and so religion was born. After all, achieving an afterlife is the reward of any religion.”

“No, it’s much more than that. Your faith provides a guide to show you how you should live in this life.”

“But the big payoff is having an afterlife. The whole point of religion is to live forever.”

“No.” Christine was trying to be patient. “It’s a way to live with peace and love –”

“But not with tolerance……Anthony and I tried to live in peace and love but it was all taken from us.”

“You’re missing the point.”

Martin could tell she was getting irritated so he decided to change the direction of the conversation. “Have you ever considered a scientific explanation for how the universe was created?”

“God created everything.”

“Everything?”

“Yes, every single thing that exists.”

“Do you really believe that God created the form of cancer that killed the person I loved more than anything?”

“You’re just trying to be difficult.”

“No, I’m not. It’s just that if God created me and Anthony – like you claim – how could our being gay be a mistake?”

A brief truce set in for a few moments as they each assessed which line of argument they should pursue.

Martin broke the ceasefire. “Why do you believe there needs to be a hell? Some people have suffered enough in this life, and no matter how hard they prayed, they still suffered.”

“Did you pray for Anthony?”

The question caught Martin off guard and made him physically flinch in response.

Christine immediately regretted asking it.

Martin lowered his head and softly said, “It wouldn’t have made any difference. Prayer would not have replaced his devastating loss of brain tissue or fused together his shattered spine.”

Gently, Christine said, “Well, I can’t explain it, but I believe prayer does help people. It can make them feel better and even heal them.”

Martin lifted his head and looked her in the eyes. “Did you pray for Anthony?”

Christine now realized how inappropriate her question had been, and she felt trapped. If she said no, he would want to know why not. And if she said yes, he would point out that her prayers had done no good.

But Martin was not really interested in her answer. He had no desire to make her uncomfortable or to denigrate her faith. He just wanted to try to understand why one group of human beings could not accept another group of human beings. However, he doubted it could ever be explained in a rational way that made any sense.

Christine offered the only defense she could. “I believe that God has a plan for each of our lives.”

“And that plan included taking the person I loved, destroying his intellectual capacity, decimating his body and then giving him a terminal disease?”

“Of course not.” She struggled to put into words what she believed in her heart. “God is the alpha and the omega. He is the beginning and the end. He knows the past, the present, and the future. That is why He is able to have a plan for our lives.”

“But if God is all-knowing, why did He let me be born?”

“What do you mean?”

“If God knew from the beginning of time that I wasn’t going to believe in Him – He would have also known since the beginning of time that I was doomed to hell for all eternity. By allowing me to be born, He sealed my fate.”

“No, no. God is love.”

“How can He be love when He lets a person come into this world knowing full well they will refuse to believe in Him and will suffer eternal damnation?”

“God doesn’t interact like that.”

“I thought you said He has a plan for each of our lives. That sounds pretty interactive to me. The problem is that if God has always known who is going to be going to heaven and hell, and He wants to plan everyone’s life than we are trapped in a rigged game. The outcome is already determined, therefore there is no free will……I’m sorry, but I can’t believe that attempting murder could ever be part of God’s plan.”

“You’re twisting things around.”

“How? You believe that God knows the future, so He knew we were going to be shot that afternoon. If that is true, it means free will is an illusion.”

Martin fell silent and looked at her with such intensity that it made her uncomfortable. Finally, he asked a simple question. “Do you hate me?”

Christine was shocked. “NO! How could you ask such a thing?”

“But you can’t accept me, right?”

“It is not about you personally, so you shouldn’t take it that way.”

“I suppose that’s easy to believe if you’re not the one who is constantly being judged……I’m just tired of feeling like a victim.”

“Do you really feel like you’re victimized all the time?”

Martin hesitated for a moment and then he reached into his pocket and got out his phone. Christine watched him scroll through photos until he found the one he wanted. “You asked earlier about having the house painted.” Martin handed her the phone and when she looked at the picture, her heart broke and her eyes began to blur with tears. Using bright red paint, someone had sprayed the words ‘One Less Faggot’ across the front of his house.

As tears streaked down her cheeks, she heard Martin say, “They did it while I was at Anthony’s funeral.”

“Oh my God, Martin. I am so sorry.” She opened her purse and grabbed some tissues.

He shrugged in weary acceptance. “I guess it will never end. It’s just so sad that love between two people can generate such hate.”

Christine handed the phone back to Martin and watched as the haggard, beaten man stared at the words of ignorance that had cruelly defaced his home. A home that he had spent years living in as he cared for the person he loved.

Martin put the phone down, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. It seemed to Christine that he could sleep for days if given the chance.

During her decade as a hospice nurse, she had dealt with enough families to know that there are many different ways that people handle the death of a loved one. Some are resigned to it. Some struggle to accept the painful truth. And some, like Christine, believe it’s God’s will. But in Martin’s darkest hour of grief, even as he tried to come to terms with burying the person he had given his heart to, the ugliness of bigotry had continued to stalk him.

Throughout her life, Christine had never doubted her faith. Her belief in Jesus Christ was unassailable. Her conviction that the Holy Bible was the absolute literal word of God was beyond question. But now, for the first time, as she looked over at the exhausted man, slumped in his chair with his eyes shut tight, she began to wonder how it could possibly be a sin for someone to be as caring and loving as Martin had been to Anthony.

As they continued to sit in silence, she thought back over the last six weeks, remembering how patient and gentle Martin was as he did everything he could to make Anthony’s last days on earth as comfortable as possible. He would often sit and read to him, long after there were any signs of comprehension. She had asked him why he continued to do it, and he’d answered that it was for his benefit as much as it was Anthony’s. It was something they had done every evening for years, and it allowed Martin to briefly stop dwelling on the inescapable fact that their days together were almost at an end.

During the time she had spent with them, Christine had been deeply impressed by Martin’s genuine goodness, however, that positive impression contradicted the way she was raised. All of her life she had been told that being gay was wicked and evil. But now she was forced to admit to herself that, in the ways that mattered most, Martin was really not much different from her. He wanted love in his life, he wanted to be happy and to be accepted – but all of that had been stolen from him because of sheer ignorance. The kind of ignorance she feared she had been guilty of.

Martin stirred in his chair and opened his eyes. Blushing with embarrassment he said, “Oh, Christine I’m sorry. I just got lost in my own thoughts.”

“You don’t have to apologize.”

He smiled. “You should have escaped while you could.”

She laughed and replied, “You know, I didn’t want to come back here today, but my supervisor insisted……and now I’m glad I did.”

“Me too.”

Christine reached over and put her hand on his. “Martin, I apologize if my beliefs in any way made things more difficult for you during my time here. It was never my intention to inject my religious viewpoint into your personal life.”

“That did not happen. You were both considerate and caring. I don’t think I could have gone through it without your help.”

“Actually, you are one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. I don’t know anyone who has endured as much as you have.”

She paused as she chose her next words carefully. “Let me ask you one last question and please be honest with me…… Once you’re feeling rested, would you like to go out and get a cup of coffee? Although the circumstances of our meeting could not have been worse – I think I’m a different person for having gotten to know you, and I’d like to continue this relationship if it is something you’d be interested in.”

Martin was both surprised and touched. “You would be willing to do that? Most people in this community know I’m gay. Wouldn’t you worry about what other people think?”

“No. Not anymore. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I just care about you.”

Martin smiled and for just a moment his overwhelming weariness seemed to lift from his shoulders. “Please, give me just a minute. I’ll be right back.”

Christine watched him jump up and rush out of the room, displaying surprising energy with each step.

As she waited, she thought about what had transpired during their conversation. It seemed that two people who lived in separate worlds had found a way to connect in a way that respected both of them. It was in this moment of reflection that she decided once and for all to let God judge human beings, she had no more desire to stand in judgment of anyone.

A few seconds later she heard Martin coming back down the hallway. She was surprised when he came into the room carrying a canvas painting.

“Martin, what are you doing?”

He looked at her and said, “I want you to have this.” He turned the painting around, and Christine saw it was a stunning portrait of a woman. “This was Anthony’s last painting. He finished it just two days before the shooting.”

“Oh, Martin it’s beautiful! But you should keep it. If it was his final work you must hang on to it.”

“No, no. There is a reason I want you to have it. This is a portrait of Anthony’s mother.”

Christine covered her mouth as an unexpected wave of emotion swept over her. “This must stay in the family.”

“Please, let me explain. Anthony’s mother could not accept the fact that her son was gay, and she, in effect, disowned him for decades. He desperately tried repeatedly to reach out to her, but she refused to even acknowledge his existence. Year after year he kept trying to see her, but she always refused. Even family functions like holidays and birthdays were off-limits – and it broke his heart.

“But then, shockingly, about a month before the attack, she contacted him. His mother told him that she had congestive heart failure, and facing death, she realized what a terrible mistake it had been to reject her child. She pleaded for his forgiveness, and although devastated that she was dying, he was overjoyed that she wanted to reconcile with him.

“He immediately went to visit her, and she gave him years of family photos. He was touched by one in particular, and that’s the one he painted the portrait from. He had planned to give it to her on her seventy-fifth birthday, but several weeks before that day arrived, he was shot. Anthony’s mother died a short time later. She never saw the painting, and Anthony could not bear to look at it once she had passed.”

Christine felt drained realizing how much tragedy had happened to one person – all because of who he was.

“I want you to have it because I think finding out who Anthony really was has made you have a change of heart just like his mother did.”

“That’s true, but it wasn’t just Anthony. It was also you. The two of you remained together for more than three decades through unbelievable challenges. My failed marriage lasted less than one decade. I now understand that I am in no position to judge the love that other people share.”

“I know what you mean. I’ve learned from this experience as well. I have always been guilty of stereotyping Christians. I thought that people who were deeply religious, no matter what their faith, were unwilling to open their minds. I just assumed their beliefs would always prevent them from accepting a different point of view. But I was wrong. You are a person of faith, and I respect that, but you are also someone who is willing to listen.

“So please accept this gift. It’s my way of thanking you for your willingness to try to understand the relationship I shared with Anthony.”

Martin handed her the painting and Christine held it out at arm’s length and studied it. “Anthony had a remarkable talent. The color and detail are breathtaking.”

“He was an amazing person in countless ways. I was so fortunate to have him in my life.”

“You were both blessed to have found each other.” Christine smiled warmly at the man who, just an hour before, was a person she could neither understand nor accept. “I’m going to go so you can get some rest.” She set the painting on the chair, reached into her purse and pulled out a hospice business card. “I’m putting my cell number on the back. Please give me a call when you feel up to it and we’ll go have that coffee.”

“I will. Thank you, Christine.”

She gathered everything up and they walked to the door and stepped out on the porch.

She turned to him and in her sternest nurse voice said, ‘You need to eat and get some sleep.”

He smiled. “I promise. And in a few days, I’m going to call you.”

She looked at the black folder she’d been forced to retrieve and shook her head. “This has been an amazing afternoon. Thank you for the beautiful painting, but, most of all, thank you for sharing the details of your life.”

“You’re welcome.”

Christine turned and started walking to her car. When she heard the front door close, she stopped and took one last look at the house.

She now understood why he had to make the home improvements – but she also understood that it would take far more than a coat of paint to remove hate from Martin’s world.

 

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