Dear Lily June,
Yesterday, a colleague and friend, Kimmy, came into my office and said she just didn’t understand the expansion of the universe. “Because people smarter than me have said it, I believe the universe is expanding,” she confided in me, leaning over my desk a little to whisper-ask the next questions. “But into what? How does that work? What are the boundaries of the universe that the universe is pushing past? Isn’t it all, you know, more universe?”
Today, that’s a little how I feel, confused and terrified at the machinations of a world increasingly more hostile than I know how to even conceptualize of, let alone change. I wanted to call off from work this morning for a mental health day so that I could avoid the world. But to which corner of the world do I slink to escape from, you know, the world? Isn’t it all, from Burma to Beijing to Baton Rouge to my bedroom, the world?
I wanted to wake up your father, who’d been up late with you the night before, to ask him to hold me while I cried, but I knew he needed the rest. And why after all, Lily June, should I be crying? Our current President signed an executive order calling for a temporary ban on immigration from seven Muslim nations and specifically blocking entrance into the country by refugees from Syria. An incredibly strong woman and the country’s Attorney General, Sally Yates, stood up to such an order, believing it based less on reason and law than on fear and hate, and was immediately fired.
I am not Muslim. I am not from Syria. I am no politician. I am where power goes to die. So why is this affecting me so much?
I am a mother, a human being who has brought into the world, the expanding universe, another human being: You. I imagine how I would feel if it were us. What if we just needed a safe corner of the world in which to slink, to climb, to squeeze, to fit, to hide? Syrian children are children just like you, Lily June; Syrian mothers are mothers just like me; Syrian fathers are just like your father. Muslim faces are faces, too; Middle-Eastern hearts beat. We are all people, looking for ways to be safe, to be happy, to be free.
At this new blow to humanity, though, originating yet again from our country, I’ve started to feel like empathy has become the equivalent of Bambi meeting Godzilla.
I’ve started to lose my heart, my nerve, my mind. I’ve started to feel a creeping darkness surrounding me, one I could either rail against or succumb to. And so, as people do, I broke down in public, on social media, online.
This was my Facebook status for the day:
Like many, I vacillate between a sense of responsibility to remain informed and a sense of abject horror once I have been informed. Like many, I have a mental illness that is triggered by becoming informed, which manifests as crushing anxiety and hopeless despair. Like many, I find I need self-care, even while I sink into a pit of guilt that self-care itself is a self-indulgent privilege that not everyone is granted, and so, I engage in looking at the world like a child who peeps through the slits of hands she threw over her eyes to save them from having to see the world. Like many, I am too poor to afford therapy to discuss this with professionals. Like many, I am an introvert, too socially anxious to discuss this with many others.
Like many, I am trying to get up every day and keep going. Like many, I have a daughter for whom I cannot give up a dream not just of a good future in this country, but of a future at all for this planet. Like many, I don’t have the money to give to Planned Parenthood or the ACLU or other causes I believe in because I literally live paycheck to paycheck to pay off the debts I accrued earning the degree I (sometimes feel I irresponsibly) pursued. Like many, I want to put my body in the way of the machine–to stop the bulldozers of a post-democratic society from rolling over the last vestiges of what keep us from becoming a full-blown dictatorship. Like many, I don’t know where or how I am needed. Like many, I am praying (even if I don’t know exactly to whom) that I will find my purpose, my way to get in the way of this anti-progress.
Like many, I still cling to the value of the phrase, “E Pluribus Unum.” Like many, I want to know I am not alone. Like many, I want YOU to know YOU are not alone.
After posting it, a long time passed, which means, of course, on the internet, that there were a few full seconds of absolute silence, despite a page refreshing (or a hundred or three). My heart began to beat with all the stillness of a hummingbird’s wings if the hummingbird had just dropped speed. I started to breathe into a metaphorical, mental paper bag. I considered how vulnerable my words were making me. I hovered my mouse over Edit Post. Then over Delete.
Then, a few likes trickled in and I thought, Okay, okay, I’m alright. It’s okay that I’ve just admitted to friends, coworkers, colleagues, ex-students, bosses, prospective employers, old lovers, family who might not have otherwise known, that I have a mental illness. That I am struggling. That I don’t want this, politically. That I’m awash, religiously. That we’re all in this together, a strange, uncomfortable new sense of sad unity.
Hours later, in response to the post, I was invited to a local resistance group meeting, which I will be dragging you to tomorrow night. I was reached by your father who reminded me that even our act of loving you is a candle we light in, instead of just cursing at, the darkness. Last night, for instance, your dad and I tickled your belly together and the sound of your laughter, pure and true, at the mere pleasure of having a human life was a balm to my heart. I keep it fresh in my memory.
I steel my soul for whatever will come next, and I remember that even in times of paralyzing hopelessness, others smarter than me, stronger than me, have kept believing. Their beliefs have expanded the hearts inside of a troubled world inside of a universe that is constantly expanding.
I think of the words of a child like I once was, like you now are, like crowds of refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries currently are or have been, Anne Frank:
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
If we are to re-enter our darkest hours as a country, I wish you this: that you reach one hand out when you are suffering, and you find, in that darkness, another hand to hold, to guide you, to lead you through. I wish that you, too, keep your other hand out for others who are suffering even more than you, and that they find, in the darkness, your hand to hold, to be guided by, to lead them through. Out of the many, we will become one, Lily.
E Pluribus Unum.
- By Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York – SAS_2643, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54380606