© 2010 Karen Van Fossan
There is a story of angels I long to tell you.
I could begin with Matthew Shepard,
a young guy looking to meet another young guy
I could begin with Fred Phelps,
a civil-rights attorney, turned God-Hates-Fags
Or maybe Romaine Patterson,
just a girl from Wyoming, she says,
who found herself – or put herself –
at the center of debate
about the most publicized
anti-gay hate crime
in our history.
But I am going to begin 10,000 years ago,
when bison and
prairie dogs could see themselves for miles,
when all of our ancestors
and theater wasn't theater.
It was life.
as some do today,
at the heart of their communities,
to make art with their bodies
to make prayers with their bodies.
And so –
when Matthew Shepard
was tied to a rancher's fence,
and Rev. Fred Phelps and his followers
stood outside the funeral
to tell the world that Matthew was
rotting in hell
for being gay –
Romaine Patterson had 10,000 years
whispering at her feet,
whether she knew it or not.
As the trial of one of Matthew's murderers approached,
Rev. Phelps and his group were expected
brandishing their usual signs about God
along with special signs about Matthew.
Romaine met with her friends.
How to protect Matthew's family?
How to honor the memory of their beloved?
They gathered together plumbing supplies and long swaths of fabric.
They cut and stitched, measured and sewed.
They turned themselves into angels,
who didn't go to war with Rev. Phelps and his associates,
waging battles of good versus evil,
each side claiming the good.
Instead, they made a circle.
They surrounded Phelps and his group,
bringing silence to the moment –
with their hearts toward Matthew's family.
wing to wing --
they reclaimed Matthew's story,
Phelps's metaphor of Hell.
Romaine, with her supporters,
transformed the living moment,
through an embodied act of theater in the round.
Their action had – and has –
no given name.