At 10:50 a.m. on Saturday, December 18, my partner Liz and I stopped cutting cubes of cheddar for macaroni-and-cheese and turned on C-Span. The United States Senate was about to decide whether to move forward with legislation to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." We understood the procedure. If 60 Senators chose to end debate, they could act on the bill. Shutting up meant enabling the future.
But, first, the Senate had to decide about "The Dream Act." This morally impeccable piece of legislation would give undocumented immigrant children a pathway to citizenship if they had conducted themselves properly--- served in the military or gone to college or made other contributions to the United States. I thought ironically of the securely native born children I know who so far have not proved themselves capable of such feats. By a vote of 55 to 41, the Senate said no.
The Senators are not in a giving mood, I thought bleakly, but Pollyanna Kate reassured Liz that the sponsors of the legislation to repeal would never have brought it to the Senate floor if they feared defeat. The risks of public failure were too big. The scene on the Senate floor, a surprisingly small space, looked cozy. Men and women were in their uniforms---trim suits without one overt sign of gaudiness. They seemed to be chatting in a palsy way.
Then a clerk began to read the roll. The American names fell crisply into her microphone. Senator Coburn (of Oklahoma), Senator Collins (of Maine), Senator Cornyn (of Texas). I had put my faith in Senator Collins and Senator Lieberman, who seemed to be the chief shepherds of the bill. But Coburn and Cornyn? These are my rulers? Liz and I were literally on the edge of our seats. Liz began to tick off the "yea" votes on her fingers. When that crusty, conservative Ben Nelson from Nebraska registered a "Yea" vote, I thought, "We have it, we have it." But Liz said she had counted only 57. Where were the three more that were necessary? But, according to the arcane protocol of the Senate, more votes drifted in. We stopped counting. We did not know how to keep track. Then, even we got the final count: 63 to 33, an excess of yeas.
I wept. She wept. I am still lingering in disbelief that this world is opening up, not cracking up. This victory smelled so sweet. After 17 years, Sisyphus had pushed the rock of justice to the top of the mountain and made it stick there amidst the clear, fresh winds of change. Sisyphus was not one figure, but a battalion, a division. If I were to write thank-you notes, they would number in the thousands--from a private booted out of the military to the Secretary of Defense and his generals.
A friend wrote from Mexico that her gay friends thought American gays were crazy. They were working so hard to get two things every sane person wanted to avoid: the military and marriage. I have never served in the military; I have never wanted to get married. But, but, but...those witty Mexicans miss the point. In the United States, the military and marriage are the two hardest, rockiest, iciest, and highest of the mountains that Sisyphus must climb. The social conservatives have claimed and named and guarded them. One peak has now yielded.
Then the macaroni-and-cheese had to get finished. Family with children was coming to visit. Normalcy, with all its attendant craziness, was about to descend, and had to be fed. I had never before made macaroni-and-cheese, and had to find a simple guideline so that I could implement my sudden, giggly desire to do so now. To my surprise, my Mother's handwritten box of recipes lacked one. But there, in the cookbook from my mandatory high school domestic science class, was my salvation. THE BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS cookbook. The red-and-white checked covers were falling off, but the advice about food was far more sophisticated than I had remembered while still being manageable. I was in a space between Spam sandwiches and Spanish adventures in the molecular chemistry of cooking.
For an hour or two, until I remembered the hold up of the Dream Act, the America I love was in place: do the right thing, feed your family nutritiously, live and let live, and offer a home to people who have the courage to climb the most dangerous of mountains.