I wrote the following piece almost two years ago. I was in a poetry class trying to write a persona piece in the voice of Fred Phelps.
Ultimately, I was never able to make the piece work, but eventually I wrote this as monologue in the voice of Matt Shepard. I wrote it, imagining that Matt was there to welcome Fred’s soul as he crossed into another plane. What words would he offer this man whose life has become synonymous with words of hate both from and towards him?
When I saw this post by Brandon Wallace, I thought about this and figured I would share. The thing that became so clear to me as I researched Fred for the original persona piece was that this is a man who needs to grieve–and man who made a life out of sabotaging grief.
I can hardly conceive of a more Queer or Christian thing to do than to graciously face grief with someone who has harmed you out of their own self-hatred. I think we all need to give and receive compassion like this. If I had the resources, I would organize an angel-wing demonstration of compassion for Fred’s funeral. I want to live in such a world of radical, fierce forgiveness. Until then, may we cultivate imagination for such a reality.
Matt Shepard Meets Fred Phelps in the Afterlife:
“Come here, old man. Sit down on this bench and rest your arms.
You’ve been carrying those goddamn signs so long, I know your
shoulders have to be dying for a rest. I know, it takes a while to get used to—
after thinking you’d be alone forever and now all these people,
but sit down on this bench. There’s something that you need to see.
There—behind the family and the casket, across the street.
You can just start to make out the faces—they’re all here for you. They’ve
been carting around those big-ass wings for years, to all those funerals.
It was for the families, sure; to let them grieve, but
mostly is was, then, like it is now, for you. Just look at their faces.
Crying tears of relief, anger, forgiveness every one of them opening
their arms, like mine, spread out on that fence, just
waiting for you to recognize you’re welcome in this world.
The fellow there in Dorothy drag—next to the soldier—his sister
didn’t speak to him for thirteen years after he came out. She said,
it was an abomination that he loved another man. But when
her husband started beating their child, her brother’s lover insisted
that she come to live with them. She’s the one who painted white
the wings worn by the little girl holding Dorthy’s hand.
I couldn’t really believe it when I got here. I had thought the pain would
end with death, but on either side of that doorway, we all have to reckon
with our grief. Sometimes it’s too much to face in a single lifetime and
we lose our voices protesting what we cannot understand and sometimes
it’s only tears that wash away the bloody mess that hides our faces from the world.
Rest. A sea of angel wings has been waiting to sweep you
off your feet. Still your voice and let your heart be ravaged by the swollen
chords of grief your yelling throat has sought to silence.”