Pride. A piece inspired by three words.
"It's a drug. It's a high. You take a hit of the attention and you're soaring. But then there's the withdrawal and the low; and that's how you know you're addicted."
Of this, I was certain.
"So I've told myself it's better to be sober. Better to be even-keeled then expose myself to the cycles of addiction. It's better to be sober."
"But is it?" Dee asked.
We were talking about the addictive power of love, of course. Or perhaps lust mistaken for love.
I hadn’t expected Dee’s response. And as I took another sip of wine to buy myself some time to think, I had to admit that while I’d temporarily disbanded from the cycle of love, I had sought the high in other ways. Travel, for instance, feels a lot like that. There’s the build up, the anticipation of adventure as you speed down the runway. And then the lift-off, the moment the wheels lose touch with the ground, that feeling of weightlessness and freedom, of release. You cycle up. But then - there’s the return; the journey home; the dread of returning to normalcy and routine. You cycle down.
I was having this conversation in beautiful Bratislava. A city that I found to be, much like its once-linked neighbor Prague, cobbled, colorful, and friendly. But unlike Prague, Bratislava was not swarming with a whirlwind of tourists. Instead, you could mix in alongside the locals, and enjoy its petite sprawl together. Bratislava’s cityscape offered a humble buffet of what I've come to love about Eastern Europe: picturesque 10th century castles, old town squares, and tiny lanes that spindle off the city center, leading to tucked away wine bars where I could satiate my palate with copious amounts of delicious, local wine.
This particular Old Town was a complex of contradictions; an alternating juxtaposition of old and new, crumbling and modern, traditional and progressive. And this didn’t just apply to the buildings. We happened to be visiting Bratislava during its Pride Weekend. As we sat in the shade and sipped our wine al fresco, we spotted the beginnings of the celebration; couples, families, and groups of friends passed through the city center toting rainbow flags and dressed in colorful garb. A short time later, from the same spot, we also witnessed a march of people protesting the Pride celebration. It struck our group of western women, two Scots, two Americans, and an Irish lass, with varying levels of shock, disappointment, and anger. Slovakia is deeply religious and traditional — but so are many developed countries. As pointed out by the Irish couple seated beside us, Ireland, a devoutly Catholic country, has lead the charge in legalizing same-sex marriage. “Seeing this, I’m just proud of how far we’ve come,” one man said, as he reached for his partner’s hand.
In order to understand this unnerving protest, I took a look back. In the short span of 300 years, Slovakians experienced incredible change. Bratislava was first the capital of Hungary (when Slovakia was part of Hungary for 900 years) and then Slovakia. When World War I broke out, the Czech Republic and Slovakia united to form Czechoslovakia, and following WWII, Bratislava forfeited its capital status to Prague. Some 48 years later, Slovakia divorced from the Czech Republic, and Bratislava was once again the capital of an independent nation. To survive these tumultuous times, I could understand that Slovakians held on to their traditions as a means to maintain their identity and abdicate cultural norms to future generations. And yet, despite their traditions, there was still a population of citizens who carried rainbow flags that day. There were people who chose courage over covenant, and allied themselves for a cause that celebrates freedom from fear. These Slovakians sought to build new traditions, peacefully and proudly.
As I considered all of these opposing forces — the old and new, crumbling and modern, devoutly traditional and unquestionably progressive — I decided to take a look back on the decisions that had led me to my own staunch convictions about love. As you might have guessed, no wars were waged, no lines were redrawn, no great emperors sacrificed (okay, maybe just a couple good ones). What was I holding on to? Of all things, was it my pride? Hadn't I learned, and preached, to live with freedom from fear?
The answer was simply yes. And as the last of the protestors trickled away from the Old Town, I hoped for them that it would, one day, take just one person to ask “but is it?” to start cracking their tepid convictions. Maybe just one person to sit across from them and gently tell them to think differently, and they too would question what they fearfully believed.
Because it truly will take just one.