Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Do I Always Say?

I said to my daughter, "They have always been there."

I talked to my daughter mid-morning. She hadn't slept. Minority students were flooded - flooded - with messages from all corners of the university, they would be excused from classes, they would be allowed support services, there would be gatherings. The night of the election a theretofore silent group of pro-Trump revelers had burst into the common area lounge with their excitement. Their rhetoric, unfortunately, frightened one of Lucy's closest friends (a Mexican-American girl) so badly that she fled the room and called my daughter for help. They were holed up together, afraid.

I urged her to not give in to despondency and defeat. I gave no play to her sobs or sniffles. I told her to accept it, that what until now had been purely academic was real, and we had been telling her all along it was real.

"The lights have been turned on in a room where all these people have been sitting. You may not have seen them in the dark but they were always there," I told my daughter.

A short while later, I learned that on her way home, my youngest daughter was harassed and threatened, cursed. She kept her composure and came home. We talked and I encouraged her to keep her wits. The situation could have easily turned the wrong way. She needed to be careful.

"Putting your finger in a pot of water is one thing," I told her. "Putting your finger in the pot when the water is boiling will get you burned."

I called my oldest daughter a bit later to see how she was. Still rattled. Still raw. I pushed again, urging a steady, casting sand on the heat of her fear.

"You have everything you need to be strong, no matter what comes," I told my daughter. "Put your armor on and get out there. You don't lay down. You don't let this take you. This is why you are there."

'We are afraid,' she told me. 'We don't know how to be strong.'

I ignored that. "Get on with it," I told my daughter. "Do what you can to get everyone together. You are strongest together. There are tools," I told my daughter. "Use your tools."

She is mad at me for not allowing her softness, not accepting her moment of sadness and fear. I can't. My daughter has just learned for the first time in the most real terms what everyone learns at some point: it's real. Racism is real. Bigotry is real. Misogyny is real. Homophobia is real. Cruelty is part of the human condition.

And lest we find ourselves alone and smug on this side of the righteousness divide, let's remind ourselves that the white man is not universally bad. In fact, he is incredibly good and without him we have not made any of the progress we've made. He has been hurt, too. He has been afraid of us at times, and with reason, as we have not all been so good and so fair when the power has been in our hands. The white man is good and sincere and not to be called to account for the ignorance of some, any more so than our Muslim friend must apologize for the acts of animals or our Mexican friend must bow for the faults of his countrymen. Let's stop that, please. Badness is just as much a part of living as goodness and neither is the domain of one class or one color.

I got off the phone with my daughter and stayed in the living room a while, my husband and son watching a movie, my daughter singing upstairs, my mother puttering around downstairs. I dozed on the couch. When it was time for bed and the lights were off, I laid there for a moment and cried. Because I don't want my children to be hurt. I don't want my daughter to be afraid. I half considered calling all the men in my family, including my sweet baby cousin who comforted my Sara, telling her he had her back if anyone ever threatened her again - I considered calling them all and saying, "Let's go get Lucy and show those kids on that campus that they are not alone. That we will not roll over for fear."

I considered it and then half-laughed at the thought of my own opera.

Nothing has changed. What was good yesterday is good today, and when the lights came on in that room, there were your uncles, Lu, there was your dad, there's your brother, your cousins, all your aunts, I am there, your friends - strong, proud, wearing their flags - are there. Your grandparents, survivors every one, are there. The lights are there for you to see the people you might not have known. That's ok. They have always been there. But so have we, and we're not going anywhere. Let them come with whatever they bring, baby. They don't scare us. They don't stop us.

I always say to you when you head out, not "Don't go" but "Con cuidado."  Así, mi vida, pero siempre pa'lante.

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