Today, we hear from our Executive Director, Jody Huckaby, about his experience attending the Pope's visit to the White House.
I took the day yesterday to spend time with my sister, Joan. We started the day at 3:30 AM and arrived at the White House gates at 4:45am. As my colleagues at PFLAG National know, arriving early isn’t a trait associated with me, but my sister inherited that always-on-time/if-not-early trait from our mother. We snaked our way through the security lines of the White House with the dark pre-dawn sky above us accompanied by greetings of welcome from joyful sounding voices of White House staff along the barricades, arriving on the South Lawn by 6:00 AM.
Yes, we arrived three hours and 22 minutes “early,” before the scheduled start of the arrival ceremony. Joan and I had not seen one another in 16 months, and, as close as we are, Joan and I simply continued the conversations we had started when she arrived from Baton Rouge 12 hours earlier. She is just “Joan” to me, but she is “Sister Joan” to her fellow sisters of the Congregation of St. Joseph, and to the faculty members and students at St. Joseph Academy in Baton Rouge. Joan is a mother of two sons, a grandmother of four, a sister to seven of us siblings, and, for me, most importantly, she is my Godmother. Joan asked me 38 years ago to be the Godfather of her oldest son. Yes, Joan and I are close.
Without wifi or cellular service to contact my colleagues who were also part of the PFLAG contingent that made up the 1,500 Catholics and Catholic allies invited by the White House, and no ability to post on social media or send email or text messages, these 3+ hours would be rare “family time” to catch up and reconnect. We started as we always seem to do by going through the list of siblings, their spouses, partners, children and grandkids and traded notes and stories. We covered the last 16 months of our own lives, the joys and the challenges, achievements and the breaking points.
Joan asked about my work and PFLAG. She asked me to walk her through how it was that PFLAG National would be invited to be at this important ceremony where, as was evident from all the close chatter around us, we were among some powerhouse people with important positions in all kinds of sectors across the U.S., and some Catholics whose stories we were hearing indicated passionate faith and bold work in social justice. I laughed and said, “Well, we only have three hours left, and I have 42 years of PFLAG stories to share that would fully answer that question.”
I reminded her of the work PFLAG has done in and around faith communities: PFLAG’s focus on the people in the pews and the power of peer-to-peer learning and faith sharing; the unique perspective PFLAG has, clearly illustrated in our Straight for Equality in Faith Communities program, meeting people where they are, even if it’s not where we are and even if we wish they were farther along on their journey. I talked about how proud I am that PFLAG’s presence--invited by the President and the First Lady to welcome Pope Francis to the White House--is, for me, an acknowledgment that PFLAG’s perspective is critically important, particularly in the area of faith and religion, which we know all too well is so very personal and often politically divisive. I said that PFLAG takes the time to be with people on their journey and walks with them. I told her that we take this approach with institutions, with corporations, and yes, with faith communities.
Joan smiled, put an arm around me and said, “Wow, Jody, I’ve got goose bumps. Look at where we are standing. We are waiting for the President of the United States, the First Lady, and, seriously, THE POPE, to come out and greet this crowd.” She looked at me and she said, “I think I get it now. I think I understand PFLAG in a way that I really didn’t before.”
We had our moment. A few tears between us, a big hug, and then I said it. “My legs—I can no longer feel my legs.” It was the inevitable leg cramping that occurs after a few hours of standing in place with hundreds of others close and another 13,500 packed onto the Ellipse behind us.
But the picture perfect bright blue sky, the cool breeze and the warm sun, along with the growing anticipation for the start of the arrival ceremony made us forget the leg cramps as the military band began. The three and a half hours were gone, filling the gap for us in ways that conversations of family, faith and PFLAG can do.