Gretchen Staebler Commentary: Vote on Marriage Is Part of Humanity’s Ongoing Story


When Adam and Eve left the garden, story began. When they walked away from the safety of their small world, their story mingled with others’ stories that were different from their own and story grew. And so it continues: with the invention of boats and planes and spaceships, telegraphs and telephones and the Internet; the stories of one people meet the stories of another and converge into a collective story. Try as we might, they cannot again be separated.

This month is the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. I was 10 years old, living in this house I am again living in. Then as now, the vine maple leaves were turning red and gold; the sun rose behind the mountain over the fog-filled valley; fir needles and big leaf maple leaves covered the driveway. 

What I remember about the days and months following the disclosure of those 13 days would almost fill a matchbox. “Duck and cover” drills, as if getting under a desk would protect one from nuclear fallout. The information that people were building bomb shelters in their homes with supplies to last a few weeks, as if one would want to outlive the world. But I knew nothing then of how ridiculous that was. We were doing what we could as the story exploded to include new stories that we couldn’t understand.

If the crisis was discussed in my family or in my fifth grade classroom, I do not remember. There is an instinct to let children stay in the garden of innocence as long as possible. 

I wonder if my parents talked about it to each other, or if they wanted to stay in the garden, too. After all, they had already lived through the Depression and a world war. Didn’t they deserve time in the garden of denial in the safety of their small town, cocooned with their children in their home on the side of a hill overlooking a bucolic valley? 

But whatever the personal stories, the world left the garden again when the story of how close we came to ending the narrative came to light. We have not returned to that particular illusion of safety since.

We are on the cusp of a historic vote in Washington. The 42nd state is poised to become the first state to provide, by popular vote, all people — including same-sex couples — the opportunity to marry. 

Approve or disapprove, the story will move on toward the day when no one thinks about discriminating against a portion of the population.

But for now there is the resistance that has been the narrative of our society through the decades. Women fight for equality, and men resist leaving the garden. Blacks fight for equality, and whites resist leaving the garden. People who are gay fight for equality, and people who are straight resist leaving the garden. We want to keep the story simple, familiar, and understandable. And so, like duck and cover, we fight back with ridiculousness, because it is all we have in the face of inevitable change. 

Stories, like that my 96-year-old mother told a reporter last week about how discrimination is wrong and that everyone should be able to marry the one they love, won’t change minds. Not immediately. 

But when we articulate our experience, and when it is written down for others to read, it becomes story. And it joins with our neighbor’s story. And our collective story transforms the world. When we leave our small garden to join another’s exodus from their small garden, we plant a bigger garden — one that holds us all.


Gretchen Staebler has lived in three eastern states since membership in the first graduating class from the new Centralia High School, Class of 1970. She writes a weekly blog called, “My View from the Garden” at