"There is something you should know about me." Jeff and I had been texting for weeks, and had just started actual, in-person dating. We were not kids - I knew about his three children from his first marriage, he knew that I had a court date but was not yet legally divorced. We lived 2.5 hours away from each other. So far, everything seemed to be going surprisingly well. I am an Episcopal priest, and we met at a church board meeting, so the usual weirdness of having to explain what I do and what it demands of me were easily understood by him. Plus, the issue of faith was right out in the open.
Jeff is an Ironman triathlete, and while my running schedule is no match for that, I get what it's like to be committed to working out, and to having an erratic, demanding schedule. Our relationship was unfolding easily, with peace and humor and staying up all night and silly love songs and crazily hopeful optimism. We had not experienced any conflict.
Until he mentioned the gun. The one he had in his home, in a safe only he had the combination to, with the ammunition stored separately, also locked. I give him credit that he brought it up when he did - early enough that if it were really a deal-breaker, I would not be so invested in us that I couldn't walk away. And I almost did.
I am your garden variety Christian, vegan, animal-loving pacifist. I don't wear leather. I run screaming from bugs, but I really want them relocated, not annihilated. I won't even eat animal crackers. I have to turn off those commercials about animal shelters that have Sarah McLachlan doing voiceover because they make me sob. And I hate guns. Hate them. I see no reason for anyone to own one, ever, and I only see them in terms of violence, which I abhor.
And yet, I love this man. And if I learned anything from the wreckage of one marriage, and several relationships before that, it is that loving someone really does mean accepting, even adoring, everything that they are. Even the things about them that are bewildering or frightening. So first, I thanked Jeff for his honesty, for trusting me enough to tell me about the gun even though he knew the risk. And because of this honesty and bravery, I knew I could not just walk away.
And then I considered that I had never even met anyone with a gun before, as far as I know. So I decided it might help if I found some things out. I asked him why the gun, what for.
'I don't hunt,' he answered. Oh, phew. 'And I don't keep it for personal safety. It is so well locked and hidden that if someone ever tried to come into my house, they would take what they wanted and go before I found everything and assembled it.' I found I could breathe much easier.
'But I do think there are certain things a man needs to know how to do. A woman, too, for that matter. How to stay safe while driving, while walking in a strange neighborhood. How to change a tire, how to navigate without a computer. And how to fire a gun. It is part of my own personal skill set. I only use it at the gun range, and that is the only place I ever would.'
Part of me was very much comforted by this conversation, and very grateful to know more about this person I was opening my heart to. His explanation clarified what I had already felt - that this was an honorable and good and kind-hearted man who simply saw this one part of the world differently than I do. He even told me that he had received a rifle at age nine, a present for his first communion. Yep, that's a whole different world for me. I got a white Bible.
I could accept this about Jeff, but I could not accept the gun. There it was, between us. 'Do you want me to get rid of it?', he asked. 'Because what I know is, I have a girlfriend, and I have a gun. There is no question about which one means more to me.'
My heart melted at that, but I said no, I couldn't ask it. 'Someday, years from now, you will say in a fight that you got rid of the gun for me, and still I am never happy.' I could not demand that he change something fundamental about himself for me. If he ever wanted to get rid of it, that needed to be about him, for his own reasons. I had to decide what about this was about me.
And so we dropped it for awhile, got back into the process of falling in love. Every day was something happier, something easier. My divorce was final, his kids were part of my life, everything was going amazingly well. And so one day I said, 'I can live with you having a gun. I just cannot live where a gun lives. It cannot be part of my life, even if it is part of yours.'
What I was starting to learn was where he ended and I began, even as we merged together. We will never be exactly alike, we will never understand everything about one another. There will always be some conflict between us. We will love each other thoroughly, but we won't demand the other change. I realized that if I was going to love this man for the rest of my life, I either had to love all of him, or let him go. And he had to love me in the same way.
One year later we were married, and now we live together. And the gun lives somewhere else. And we both feel happy and safe. It still belongs to Jeff, he still uses it at the range, but I have never seen it and never want to, and he gets that. The fact that this did not become a power struggle between us, but instead led to a deepening of our love, is something we marvel at, and something we attribute to the peace of God which passes all understanding, not one of us being right and convincing the other they were wrong. Even about something as important as this.
Both Jeff and I are horrified and anguished by the gun violence that seems to be gripping our country, our world, at this moment. We both feel grief and heartsickness at the loss of life, the madness of having to be afraid at one's workplace, school, anywhere. We both see paths to a safer, saner society in different ways. And we both rely on a faith that we believe is truly the path to living lives of peace: trust and respect and love between those of us, even our most beloved, who feel differently than we do, even radically so. And in the name of love, finding that we can live happily side by side even then. Peace can begin with each and every one of us, I believe this passionately. Love can transcend our differences, if we let it. It can be, it is, the strongest force there is.