A Letter to My Children on the Eve of the Inauguration
Dear Gloria & Harold,
Peace be with you my dear children. I started this letter when there was one single day left in 2016. Now there is one single day left before the next president of the US is officially sworn in to office. And I’m sorry.
I’m so sorry about the results of the US election. I’m embarrassed by our country. I don’t know what to say sometimes when the topic of the election comes up. I spent so much time the day of the election telling you that I was beyond thrilled to have a woman as president. I was truly certain Hillary would win. She just had to win. I just couldn’t imagine there would be anyone who would seriously, with a deep review of their heart, vote for the Republican candidate.
I couldn’t believe there would be a majority of people who would support and bolster and want to stand beside a person who appears out of touch with humanity (but turns out the majority actually voted for Hillary but the electoral college made it so the minority of the US population got their candidate in the highest-ranking position in our country—it’s not comedy, it’s real!).
Perhaps it is all a façade, I thought. I could only hope that the way the president-elect behaves publicly is mere show. But if it isn’t, if the way he holds himself, presents himself and the things he says are his truth, I need to define some terms for you and me and all of us. So much rhetoric and so many opinions and various labels and name-calling swirl in this strange land called the political landscape. (If it really is a landscape, my experience of it is as a thorny wilderness that vacillates between stinging cold and smoldering heat and wonder after wonder to the point where I can only use my own hand to push up my dropped jaw and quietly shake my head.)
But back to defining terms. You two know I’m a language maven. I get all choked up when you say, “May I have…” instead of the embarrassing, “Can I have…” and I’m quick to correct that you can’t ever “refer back” to something (because the word refer implies going back already so there is a redundancy in “refer back” that makes me roll my eyes with incredulousness) and I cringe at the misuse of “they’re, their and there” in too many social media posts.
Despite my possibly unhealthy fixation on the Latin roots of words and the music and color of the English language, I still need to hear again and again the definitions of words because after overuse their meaning is lost on me—the root of their intended communication begins to disintegrate.
Now more than ever with a president-elect about to make history in our country having been elected by citizens who benefit from freedoms he apparently ignores, I want to define some terms. I’ve been reading a lot about this man—a curiosity to me. The language that follows him, that is used to describe him are like keys to understanding him. You guys, I’m trying. I’m trying to actually live out how I want you to live: with grace and aplomb and forgiveness and hospitality. I am finding it very hard to do so with this president-elect (I can’t even bring myself to say or type his name at this point).
So sometimes I imagine what it might be like to have him over for dinner.
What might it be like to welcome someone whom you feel has hurt you and others, who you think lacks humanity, who doesn’t seem interested or even like any of our neighbors (the Mexicans, the lesbians, the Somalis, the Vietnamese, the gays, the African Americans, the white family on welfare, the Kenyans) and who you believe is a dangerous person and someone who lacks basic perspective? If he appeared at our door and you were standing there watching me open it, what would I do—what would you see me do?
My dear Harold and Gloria…there is very little chance the president-elect will ever be at our doorstep. I don’t think I’ll be able to put into practice a meal that might have me answering those questions with my actions. So maybe it is frivolous to ask them. But what I can do is educate you on the language that is spinning up around this man. The words used to describe him.
Why would I even bother to focus on him and share the definitions that you could just look up yourself someday? I want you to let the understanding of these words sink in and move you to do and be something different than what has been done before. There are mountains of words that have been used to describe this man, but I’ll choose the 12 that stick out to me which is symbolic of the 12 months of this first year of his leadership.
1. Bigot: A person who is utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion or a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, especially on religion, politics, or race.
2. Xenophobe: A person who fears or hates foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers and a person who fears or dislikes the customs, dress and etc., of people who are culturally different. The Latin root “xeno” means foreign and “phobe” means fears or hates.
3. Racist: A person who believes in racism which is the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others. Racism is first attested in 1936 from the French word racisme which was originally used in the context of Nazi theories.
4. Insensitive: Someone deficient in human sensibility, acuteness of feeling, or consideration; unfeeling; callous. An insensitive person is without consideration for the feelings of others.
5. Uninformed: Not having knowledge or information about a situation, subject, etc. Originally in reference to some specific matter or subject and a general sense of “uneducated, ignorant” as recorded from the 1640s.
6. Repugnant: Distasteful, offensive, disgusting, contradictory, inconsistent or incompatible.
7. Deceptive: Perceptually misleading.
8. Misogynistic: A person who hates, dislikes, mistrusts, or mistreats women.
9. Womanizer: A philanderer…someone who makes love to a woman he or she cannot or will not marry…someone who carries on flirtations.
10. Ignorant: Someone lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned. Lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact. Uninformed and unaware. Showing lack of knowledge or training.
11. Belligerent: A person who is warlike or given to waging war. Someone with a warlike character, aggressively hostile and bellicose.
12. Juvenile: Immature, childish, infantile.
Well that was sickening. I need to wash my eyes out. Or my mind.
Do these words sum up a single person? No. Is it fair? Probably not. He’s probably described as generous, creative, loving, thoughtful and other kind words by his family and friends. I don’t know. I don’t know this man. But I don’t often hear those words of kindness while walking through that strange land, The Political Landscape.
It makes me nervous to read those definitions, my dear ones. But more than nervous, they make me wake up. I rested on my laurels too much during the campaign. I didn’t do enough. I didn’t gather our tribe together and make political history. I didn’t lose sleep in order to make a real difference on our block and in our neighborhood and in our city and in our state and in our country and in our world. And I should have. Now, you know me…I don’t like “shoulds” to swim around our house because they don’t feel good and lack substance. Though I’ll use it here: I should have done something because I could have. I didn’t tap into my gifts like I’m always asking you two to do to move, touch and inspire.
I have those abilities and so do you. Each being does, really, and those who choose to spark their gifts into action are the real leaders. My favorite verse from the Bible during Advent and Christmas is that tiny, little moment when Jesus is described in a heartbreakingly awesome metaphor: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Oh my sweet ones. The darkness is vast and deep and wide. We can’t see the bottom, there is no top but even the tiniest bit of light is so very powerful in that depth. Even an endless darkness cannot consume a little light.
And you get to be that light—in a dark time with a friend, in the shadow of grief, in a hurtful dark silence, in an outcome you can’t believe.
So how to turn this country around, my Lights?
Well, we recently had an upheaval in our little family that has us in a tailspin. My resentment for the people who hurt us was ruling my days…and you will hear me say this my whole life but I’ll say it again here: resentment is like being so angry with someone and then drinking poison in hopes the other person will die. Resentment is poison. It hurts only you. It rejects clarity, it is a soul destroyer. While I was spinning through a series of vindictive imaginary conversations with the people who hurt our family, your Papa sent me an email that subverted my thinking.
You know Papa has been waking up early for nearly two months. Sometimes 4:45, sometimes as late as 5:15. And in his early mornings when the house is dark and the street is still, he sends me emails. He writes his thoughts and musings about everything from where he’d like to take me on our next date to the kind of furniture he’d like to make to how we can streamline our family budget to thoughts about the nature of our consciousness. He’s such a cool guy. You’ll find out later how cool he is, so consider this a little preview of coming attractions (though I think he emails you two, too [which reminds me: to, too, and two…don’t even get me started about the facial tick I develop when people use these words incorrectly]).
So one 5:00 morning he sends me a prayer for resentment. Ugh, I can’t stand it when he’s so great. Just kidding, I love it. I love when he loves me enough to point out an opportunity I might take to be a brighter light. So the prayer asked me to pray every time I thought of or pictured the people whom I feel treated our family unjustly. But it was more than just a prayer…the direction was to pray that God or my Higher Power or the Great Spirit or the Universe will give to them what I want.
Give to them the things I want.
That is beautiful and heartbreaking. So I’ve been praying for these people and these are the three words I’ve prayed each time they pop in my head: calm, peace, goodness. I want those things for myself in this situation. And now I pray they will get them. And you know what…they’ve actually been pretty great. My days, I mean. And my thoughts. The vindictiveness? Gone. The resentment. Gone. The peace, goodness and calm? Here.
I share all of that because I don’t want for this president-elect, who will soon be leading you and me and everyone we know, all those words above that have been used to describe him. Here’s what I want in a president and a leader and a neighbor and a friend. These are the words I want to spread through our minds and bodies like that first swallow of water that slips down your throat cooling it after a long walk.
1. Compassionate: A person who has the feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. Someone having the qualities of mercy, tenderness, heart and clemency.
2. Creative: A person having the quality or power of creating resulting from originality of thought, expression, etc. Someone who is imaginative, originative and productive.
3. Humble: Someone who is neither proud nor arrogant but modest. A person who is courteously respectful.
4. Witty: Someone who is droll, funny, original, sparkling and brilliant. A person possessing wit in speech or writing and who is amusingly clever in perception and expression.
5. Honest: Someone honorable in principles, intentions, and actions—an upright and fair person. A person who is sincere and genuine who is respectable with a good reputation. A person being truthful or creditable and not given to lying, cheating or stealing.
6. Forgiving: A person able to grant pardon for or remission of an offense or debt in order to absolve another. Someone who ceases to feel resentment against another and is able to forgive one’s enemies.
7. Thoughtful: A person showing consideration for others. A person who is characterized by or manifesting careful thought. Someone occupied with or given to thought. A contemplative. A meditative person who is reflective, careful, heedful, or mindful.
8. Collaborative: Someone who is able to work with another and to cooperate. A person who can cooperate with an enemy nation.
9. Empathetic: A person who is characterized by empathy—the ability to psychologically identify with the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of others.
10. Inquisitive: Someone given to inquiry, research, or asking questions and who is eager for knowledge as well as intellectually curious.
11. Good: A person who is morally excellent, virtuous, righteous, pious and of high quality or excellent. Someone who is well-behaved, kind, beneficent, or friendly. A person honorable or worthy and in good standing.
12. Peaceful: Someone characterized by peace and free from war, strife, commotion, violence, or disorder. A person who is peaceable—not argumentative, quarrelsome, or hostile.
Meditate on these words.
Think of them as you go out and gather your tribe to do beautiful things in this country. Share them with the ones who hurt you even if you can only whisper them into your own heart on their behalf. Write them down between the lines of the letters you will write. Remember them when you open the door to welcome whoever stands on the other side.
Gloria. Harold. I realize this is not news but we don’t get to be here in this life we’re creating together for all that long. So while we’re here and even when we’re disappointed and fearful and hurt we get to choose our feelings and our responses. No one makes us feel a certain way. No one has that kind of power over you…don’t allow anyone to think they do. You can feel angry…but you can choose to be compassionate. You can feel hurt…but you can choose to be humble. You can feel neglected…but you can choose to be empowered. You can feel incredulous…but you can choose to be resolute.
I love you two. A lot. The crazy hair. The no pants phase. The felfies we take. The inside jokes.
I’m sorry about the election results. But I’m not sorry about what it has inspired in the people who won’t stand for the negativity. We can feel the darkness…but we can choose to be light. Our lights are already shining in this darkness…and that darkness? It won’t overcome us.