jarsLast month I bought a handful of camisoles at Wal-Mart. Cotton ones in different colors. They cost a mere $2.97 each. On the way out of the store I saw they had an eye care center and wondered aloud to my brother if they might have an old school clip-on that would make my prescription eyeglasses into sunglasses when I’m driving. He nabbed me a $7 pair and we were off, me happy as a clam to have conquered two ‘needs’ mulling around in my head.

This is worth noting because I have been repeatedly vocal about my disdain for Wal-Mart ever since in 1995 it banned t-shirts with the image of Margaret, the character from Dennis the Menace, that said this:  “Someday a woman will be PRESIDENT!” Some customers complained it was too political.

The store lifted the ban a short time later but by then my mind was made up. They bowed to the family “values” folks and their sense of a woman’s traditional role. Plus, it was an easy (empty?) boycott since there wasn’t a Wal-Mart anywhere near where I lived. Similarly, when the flap around Chik-fil-A happened and the world realized it was run by Evangelical Christians against gay marriage, it would have been a surface gesture for me to declare the brand off limits when as far as I can recall I’ve never eaten one of their products.

This all came to mind the other day when I was placing a few boxes of whole wheat Barilla pasta shells into my grocery basket and was once again contemplating hiding them beneath the produce. In about a split second I decided I’m done with the covert operation. Like many, I was not at all pleased to hear the company’s chairman say last year he wouldn’t use a gay family in his advertising. But here’s what keeps coming up for me – there are dozens of things I buy regularly and I have no way of knowing if they’re made by misogynists, homophobes, racists, or criminals. Do I even want to know?

I have slowly been moving away from the idea of labeling people, categorizing them, putting them in camps. I’m tired of assumptions that come with my spiritual or political beliefs, so why would I do that to others? Don’t we all remember the powerful film “Crash” that made a deeper point about how thorny it really is to do that?

“Rather than separating the characters into victims and offenders, victims of racism are often shown to be racist themselves in different contexts and situations,” says the movie’s summary on Wikipedia. “Also, racist remarks and actions are often shown to stem from ignorance and misconception rather than a malicious personality.”

Whether it’s ignorance or malice that forms some of our beliefs, what will have the most profound impact on opening our eyes and minds is getting to know individuals as we move through our lives. Individuals are not stereotypes. Covering girls’ and women’s sports for most of the 1990s allowed me to interact with athletes and coaches of varying ages, races and backgrounds and my columns wound up being a steady drumbeat for their rights, be they based on gender, sexuality or skin color. That was unplanned; it evolved as I saw the need and engaged readers.

I wasn’t raised to be particularly open-minded. I learned it. I opened. At some point I became so open that I lost perspective and started to see everything in terms of category – for and against, Democrat or Republican, tolerant or intolerant. Now some 20 years later I see mostly shades of gray, divisions blurred, and it has made me aspire to continue to rise above the knee-jerk reaction I used to have that could be boiled down to engage or dismiss. One or the other.

Instead, I aspire to see the bigger picture and encourage others to do the same. It’s likely this means change will be glacial instead of swift and we are an impatient culture, but the results will be more profound.

You might be anti-gay, but then you find out your sister or your daughter is gay and everything changes. You either dig your heels further into that stance or you start opening your mind. This is a pivotal time for gay rights, probably the pivotal time. It feels amplified. Those who haven’t opened to it are feeling it’s being forced on them. Those who have been beating that drum for a long time are sick and tired of waiting for people to get we’re all entitled to the same rights. And there are so many whose stances fall somewhere between the two.

Not everyone is evolving at the same rate. Some are not evolving at all.

This is our reality. We occupy the same planet.

I went to a wedding recently. It was a same-sex union. One of the women getting married is a client of mine and her writing voice is emerging; I see hers as an important voice in this pivotal time in our nation because it’s authentic and vulnerable. She doesn’t hold back on the pain or the joy in her experiences and I love being along for the ride as she expresses herself.

Still, I was wholly unprepared for what transpired at her reception. Her mother sat down across from me, looked me in the eye and thanked me for not only the effect our coaching work has had on her daughter but on her family. They’ve struggled and continue to be challenged, but there they were celebrating their daughter’s love for another woman. At one point she took my hand and reinforced her gratitude for my role in their lives. That moment has prompted this piece of writing more than anything else. While I am a strident advocate for living in the moment, I don’t know if I fully took in those words until well after they were spoken.

Today, at my keyboard, I process.

This is what matters. This family. Their story. Lending whatever love or gift I have to them.

I’m pretty sure they don’t give a darn what’s in my grocery basket.