Overly friendly chit-chat from grocery store clerks seems annoyingly intimate and intrusive. I don't understand waving to people you don't know. Yet last week I spent the better part of my Sunday morning hugging weeping strangers along a parade route.
The night before the Pride Parade my college-age sons helped color the letters on my sign: "Jesus said love everyone, treat them kindly too." They also helped me find the CamelBak hydration backpack, which didn't look so great with my gauzy church dress, but seemed an appropriate companion to the unfashionable hiking sandals I wore. (Mad props to those other groups who walked and danced in such awesome high heels!)
It didn't occur to any of us that I should pack the cargo portion of the backpack with tissues ... lots of tissues.
I was nervous to be voluntarily participating in something so out of my element. I look like I should be teaching a Relief Society lesson (which I actually do) instead of sharing a parade route with groups of people who are way more toned and way less dressed than I. But I was also very excited to be actively sending a message of love to the LGBT community.
In the Mormons Building Bridges gathering area, I was busy putting "Love One Another" suckers (to hand out) into my otherwise empty scripture bag. A lady walked by, backtracked, and stopped by my group of middle-aged Mormon moms and with tears in her eyes simply said, "Thank you, what you are doing here is wonderful."
What? I hadn't predicted being on the receiving end of such heartfelt, tender and profound gratitude and love. That's what we came to give, not receive. No fair! She was breaking the rules! She was not the only one.
As our group began walking and we rounded the first corner onto the official parade route, what I saw and heard made me gasp. Thousands of people were standing, cheering, clapping as if we were some sort of championship sports team. And then I saw the criers . . . everywhere.
That's when I wanted to steal my friend Martha's sunglasses to hide tears I was unable to stop. I had prepared myself for some jeering, but not for the shouts of "thank you" ringing out everywhere. It was too much. What it represented was too much.
Instinctively, we knew that behind every shouted or mouthed "thank you," behind every tear-streaked face, there was a story of hurt. As a collective group dressed in our church clothes, we looked like the people who had been instrumental in causing damage to our gay brothers and sisters. And there they were, dressed in much cooler clothing, lining the streets of Salt Lake City, throwing out forgiveness, love and joy with abandon.
I don't know that I have ever had a more spiritual Sabbath experience. We were attempting to show Christ-like love ... and the crowd upped us.
Though it was not our intent, our group's participation has overshadowed many of the other supportive groups that have marched with kindness in the Pride Parade for years. To these groups, I want to say, thank you for allowing us to follow in your wise and brave footsteps. It should not have taken us so long to join you, but when we finally did, boy did it feel great! We've taken a muted approach to acceptance for far too long.
What we Mormons did by walking together was not heroic. It was simply a decent, atoning and long-overdue thing to do. It was also the best walk of my life.
Doree Ashcraft is a mother of three, a writer, a CASA volunteer and a life-long and active Mormon.