And yet, when I woke up on January 1st, 2009, all chipper and excited about the new year, I walked out of my hotel room door to see this display in front of the hotel room door on the other side of the corridor:
Artfully arranged with stirring sticks and sugar packets, the letters "F" "A" "G" were spelled out for the room's occupants, for when they opened their door, expecting to find only two cups ready for their morning coffee. Here's a close-up:
And I was stumped.
Clearly, this was a joke, right? This was someone playing a "prank" on their friends.
This was as innocent as the pattern of stirring straws that were laid to match the patterned carpet for the next ten feet of hotel corridor.
Well... I wasn't so sure.
Here's what I was sure about:
I knew for sure that I didn't want my child walking out of our hotel room door to read it.
I knew for sure that if the straws and sugar packets had spelled out "N" "I" "G" "G" "E" "R," I wouldn't have thought twice about swooping the straws up to destroy the word.
There is nothing innocent about words used in hate.
And yet, context adds meaning: Black people can use the "N" word with each other, I guess in a similar way that Gay people can and do use "Queer" within the community.
This might have been some gay-friendly people teasing some other gay-friendly people. But given the history of hate, leaving a word that could be either teasing or mean out on someone's doorstep didn't feel jocular...
So, there was my New Year's Day Dilemma, a 5:25 am puzzle.
Should I have left the straws intact, making sure I didn't mess up someone's joke, or should I have swept them aside, erasing a gesture of possible intolerance?
What would YOU have done?
As for me, after I thought about it, worked out, thought about it some more, and then wrote this blog post, at 6:55am, I swooped. Here's my best cell-phone camera action shot:
I figure I'm an adult, and I'm willing to take the karmic 'hit' (if there is one) from ruining someone's joke, to make sure the world is a little bit safer and kinder for me, other gay people, and my kid.
I realized that yes, words have power, but with a swing of my sneakered foot, I had the power to erase that word.
And I did. Here's the hotel corridor, put back to rights:
So here's to a year, and a world, where we all claim our power - and the power of words - to make things better!