To my sweet boys:
The first thing I want you all to know is that you are brave and resilient. You will all continue to shine a big, bright light into the dark world you entered. You will fill your grandparents with joy, and laughter, and a sense of purpose. You will be the reason they get through this. The image of your sweet faces, and the memory of how you smell will sustain them through challenging moments. They’ll day-dream of a hopeful future, watching the late-summer sunshine bounce off your back while you gleefully race through the sprinklers in their back yard, spinning wildly, boundlessly, fearlessly in circles, giggling and screaming. Those screams and giggles will sound and feel especially soothing, an expression of a freedom we have newly learned to cherish.
Your spirit, even when trapped behind the tiny, distant screen of an iphone, is a gentle salve for the loneliness, fear, and anxiety.
The second thing I want you know is that by the time you read this, you’ll think of me as an activist. You’ll grow up learning about social justice and civil rights and how democracy depends on our attention, awareness and participation. I’ll ungracefully talk to you about what it means to be an affluent, white male in America, and how much responsibility you have because of your identity. This will be annoying when you’re younger and awkward when you’re a teenager, but if all goes to plan it will be an important reason you grew up to not be a douchebag.
Today, though. I have a confession.
I owe you an apology.
This hell you’re living through. This confusing, terrifying, disorienting crisis that’s stripped your life of your loved ones, trapped you inside with your parents, and undoubtedly harmed your impressionable, sensitive, delicate, little souls forever, was totally preventable. And I didn’t do enough to prevent it.
You see, before Harvey and Anders were even born I moved to Michigan. I lived there in 2016, the last year we elected a President. I spent 8 months in what we sometimes call the American rust belt. I lived 11 miles from one of the most desperate, poorest cities in the country. I lived in a middle class suburb, one of the few in the region that survived the 2008 recession. To get to the Target close to my apartment I had to drive by three empty strip malls. On the way to my summer soccer games I drove through entire communities that looked like the ghost towns we visited on educational family vacations when me and my brother were kids. I heard from locals about the culture and values of grit and hard work and blue collar ethics. I took notice that the economic recovery and progress I’d witnessed, and normalized, on the west coast, hadn’t made it’s way to the middle of the country. I listened to conversations that reminded me that I mostly occupy a progressive, political bubble. I witnessed in the structure, organization and composition of the city and suburbs, numerous, constant, reminders of the systemic racism I’d basically been ignoring for the previous three years.
I moved back to California a couple of weeks after Donald Trump officially accepted the Republican nomination for President.
Throughout the primary season, I felt haunted by a nagging, persistent feeling of dread and anxiety. It felt like a tingle in the back of my neck caused by the ongoing clench of my back teeth and tightness in my jaw. Sometimes the sensation migrated to the back of my skull and took on a voice of worry. It never got louder than a whisper but the message was always crystal clear.
I knew Trump could get elected. I never admitted it out loud and I remained openly confident as I championed my long-time heroine, Hillary Clinton, and prematurely celebrated her historic female presidency.
But deep down, what I knew from my education, earlier years of activism, and especially, those transformative 8 months in Michigan, made it undeniably possible that Trump could be President.
And basically, I did nothing.
Here we are. There are two more of you than there were when he got elected and we are living in an unimaginable hellscape. Nothing, not even the most horrifying, egregious, corrupt and inhumane policies and actions, has surprised me about the Trump presidency. Even out of my worst fears, I couldn’t have constructed this, unique nightmare. Every time I get emotional about this crisis it’s because of you. I am wrecked by the unknowable impact this is making on your precious lives. I vibrate with rage when I think about the toll this could take on how you process emotions, or engage in relationships or, interact with the world as you grow up. I’m overwhelmed by a particular, defeating sadness when I think about your tender hearts, broken and confused by an upside-down reality we can’t explain or help you understand.
I lose my breath when I picture myself, four years ago, knowing better and sitting on my hands. I want to reach back through my historical timeline and shake myself (vigorously) into action. I want to scream in the face of ambivalence until I move myself to do something to alter this horrifying, unforgivable reality I could have saved you from.
What I can do, what I will do, is be better for you. This summer and fall, when we are hopefully reunited to dance in your grandmarm’s bedroom or chase each other through the house, I will lay myself out to get Trump out of the White House. Fueled by how it feels to be with you, I will stay committed to make sure we don’t have to be separated, ever again. Because I owe you so much more than my own commitment, I promise to engage and motivate others to understand the impact of their own inaction. I will ask them to think about the people who mean the most to them and plead with them to give up a few minutes, or hours, of their week, to help create the world they want those people to live in.
After we defeat Trump, I will squeeze you and snuggle you and drink you in. I will fill myself up with the gratitude of your being and will remind myself that this is only the beginning. The life I picture for you is only possible with relentless activism and the type of tireless campaign for change that is rarely rewarding enough to keep propelling us forward. When I feel challenged, fatigued or discouraged, I will find you on Facetime, or even better, in real life. I will look into those still bright eyes, miraculously still overflowing with possibility and wonder and forgiveness, and remember what I promised you:
To be better. No matter what.