I feel pride like I feel new love. It swells my heart.
And just as with that unmistakable feeling of new love, when the world seems to stop spinning because nothing else matters, I’ve had only a few moments in my life where pride overtook and transformed me. And I think that’s a good thing: You don’t want to have so much love or so much pride that neither is exceptional; easily taken for granted.
In May 2000, I was leaving Warsaw after two years residency there. I had taught classes in public relations, marketing, and communication in Poland’s first private university. My students had come from urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the country.
Although I am sure that some of these students were from families of means, I was told by the university’s “rektor” or leader, a native Pole educated at Princeton, that the majority of these young adults had in fact come from families very much struggling to navigate the tidal waves of change their newly-independent country was experiencing, and that money was always tight, as financial uncertainty and market instability ruled the day.
On my last day of my last class, “Principals of Marketing,” I had expected to inform the students that I was not returning in the fall; that I was moving back to the United States. I had also expected that this news would be met with a collective shrug and cursory well wishes.
But my students outfoxed me. They had learned of my plans and had spread the word, so that when I entered the room, figuring it would be much like all the other days I’d spent teaching them, I was greeted instead with applause and cheering. It was so unexpected that I laughed, awkwardly, thinking it was the Polish way of dealing with change – just shrug it off with sarcasm and forced smiles.
But that was not what was happening. In the blur of this surprise, as the full comprehension of what was going on finally hit me, I noticed that there were tears in their eyes, not sarcasm; that their applause and cheers for me were genuine.
Beata, a student in the second row, along with Marcin, who sat in the back, walked up and presented me with a bottle of ZUBROWKA vodka, the one that famously contains a single blade of bison grass, and one of the most expensive vodkas their country produces.
On its label were the signatures of each class member, including a few more Beatas and Marcins, as well as a Jan, Peotr, a couple of Bozenas, an Anja, Cezar, Edyta, Sebastian, a handful of Katarzinas (Kate for short), a few Margozatas (Gosha), a Wojtek, Agniziska, Tadeuscz, Jakob, Nikolas, and others that since have faded to illegible.
I still have that autographed bottle of ZUBROWKA. And although those students generously made me feel more than worthy of opening it, I’ve never done so.
When the fact of that expensive bottle of vodka, with all those signatures, from people who had to count their zlotys every day to eat lunch, hit me, my heart swelled up. My own tears started falling. That – that was a sense of pride and love of such an intensity I have only rarely experienced in my life.
As you should know, June is Pride month. For millions of us LGBTQ+ people around the world, this annual show of our collective pride brings a feeling that, as I’ve already said, swells the heart, much like love does. It’s a time to show that we are absolutely done with hiding. We are done with apologizing for the audacity of possibly making others feel uncomfortable or even a sense of hatred merely because we exist. I’m proud to be a member of the LGBTQ+ world. Hell, yeah I am. And it’s marvelous.
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Morris Ardoin’s book, STONE MOTEL – MEMOIRS of a CAJUN BOY can be purchased through the publisher, on the independent bookseller website Indibound, or on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers, and is also available as an audiobook on Audible.