“I believe that the combination of pencil and memory creates a kind of practical magic, and magic is dangerous.” –Stephen King, The Green Mile
I’ve dreamed since I was a little boy about writing words as meaningful as those above, to find my one great story to tell. I dove into Stephen King at 10 years old, and have never looked back. In every story, I’d find men and women confronting horrific monsters, both external and internal. King challenged me to confront my own humanity, provoked a forceful and spirited consideration of man’s ability, propensity even, to be far scarier than anything that dwelt in the mist. And it is storytelling, now, to which I have returned as an adult, to sort into boxes the reality of the world in which we are now enmeshed.
I hadn’t conceived a world where I’d plead with neighbors to remain at my side. I didn’t imagine salt could work its way between my lips and my son’s forehead at bedtime, fear rising in my throat like bile over what new reality might rise with the sun. And I hadn’t believed that eight days could wipe away eight years.
But I got it wrong. And so the story I have to tell, my one great story, it isn’t epic, and it isn’t fantastic, and it isn’t about monsters or mists or men. It’s about perspective, and I share it with moms and dads and sons and daughters, in the hopes that you’ll listen just one more time.
Look, I will lose credibility regardless of where my ideas are published, my words will be “fake words,” or seen as partisan and distinctly and fundamentally “less than,” if they’re seen at all. That comes with the territory; it comes with being a writer, that my words weigh less based on where they show up. I’m no stranger to information through inflammation — after all, I found my own voice in a millennial rebellion focused on youth empowerment and education. That my name is in textbooks below Roe v. Wade means that I’ve done something right, and I trust in my own road. So here we are.
The mantle of hero and villain tends to change with angle. There is much celebration over what happens in our politics, and there is much dismay. There is happiness and heartbreak, and it all weighs the same based on who holds the scale. But I cannot in good faith lay claim to another story set in the real world in my 30 years that has felt the same to me as this does. And I am smart enough to listen to people who have seen my 30 come and go in the blink of an eye, who have lived longer and harder and smarter. This is all very, very different.
I cannot go forward without you.
I have a husband and a son. Asking you to compare the feelings of desperation and angst and agony you’d feel if someone threatened your family does not scratch the surface of what that reality feels like for me.
And because I know that you cannot feel my real life in your heart, that our realities are, yes, separate but equal, I understand that I cannot feel the anguish that others feel, that you feel. It is into that gulf which divides our experiences and separates our feeling of the world that I have to throw my undivided and unequivocal trust. It is distinctly because I am unable to feel what it’s like for a refugee to be separated from his or her family, that I am compelled by principle and perspective to listen to the immutable and unyielding pain of those who do feel it. I have to learn. I have to commit to learn.
In that same way, I cannot take the sting from those whose lives have been shattered by the economy, those families who wait for jobs that have not and will not come, men and women whose sole interest is to leave behind a patch of ground for their children, same as mine, made better and more whole from their toil and sacrifice. The light of the sun hits our sweat in the same way on the Coast that it does in the Rust Belt and on the plains, our knowing it does not change that it happens; sentience doesn’t predicate occurrence.
I don’t have to live it to feel it, to understand it. I just have to listen. I have to want to listen. And we have forgotten how to listen. Perspective matters, it counts.
In our world now, people like me have been called snowflakes, because we are seen as fragile yet self-aggrandizing, believing that we are all special, but turning to puddles when things get hot.
We live in a world where strangers can eviscerate each other in 140 characters, often less, where boys and girls take their lives because they are shown the worst the world can offer, without the foundation upon which to fall back for support.
So listen to me. Please. Because this snowflake isn’t melting; it’s firming up.
It is a logical fallacy for us to believe that banning a religion from our country is going to keep us safe. It runs contrary to the very principles emblazoned on our most well-known female immigrant, Lady Liberty herself.
I am an atheist on my knees, praying for you to remember that the stories of Deuteronomy, of Exodus, of Chronicles and Jeremiah and Matthew and Romans, that these all bear out the need to welcome into our homes those who need our help and refuge the most. That if Stephen King isn’t your bag, maybe there’s some older text you’ve forgotten to consult before supporting a ban on refugees.
Do not rejoice that our president now will leave untouched the accomplishments of the president who came before. The credit for the protections enacted for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender federal employees belongs to President Obama, not because he spoke, but because he listened.
Leaving in place those protections does not undo that our current president pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, which would enshrine into law the ability for my family to be turned away from a business because of what our family looks like, because we love one another. He said, specifically in regards to the bill, “If I am elected president and Congress passes the First Amendment Defense Act, I will sign it to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths.”
Leaving in place those protections does not undo his selection for the Supreme Court, whose impact on families like mine would be far worse than undoing President Obama’s executive order.
When friends told me that the president wouldn’t come for my family, I nodded my head to reassure them, my gift to give. When people explained their vote for his economics, and squared that with their support of my family, by explaining that it could not happen in 2017 that the gay community could be politically targeted, I smiled and took a breath.
There is no satisfaction in having been proven right here, and I do not want your apology now that I have been.
I need you to fight. I need you to resist. I need you to be an American.
My family means just as much to me in my heart as yours does to you; the love of a parent, a husband, a wife, a child…these are the same.
This president, his choices, his actions, his words, are without precedent. It is not normal when a president omits Jews from Holocaust remembrances; it is intentional. When he bans refugees from countries only where he does not have personal business dealings, it is not normal; it is unconstitutional and unconscionable. And when he elevates to positions of power on our highest councils those whose voices speak to the worst in our humanity, it is not normal, it’s not liberal whining that you hear, but the steady drumbeat of the death of compassion and community.
What is happening now exists outside the realm of perspective, outside of elephants or donkeys, red or blue. We are better than warring political ideologies, factions, or tribes; if we hold truths to be self-evident, it is more crucial now than ever before that we teach our children to listen.
Because if we can be the villain, the monster, who says we can’t be the hero?
Maybe the story that can be written now, that must be, is one where we come together to defeat an enemy not of our choosing, but of our own creation. He is our fault, but now also our responsibility.
March. Resist. Believe. And love. I’m right beside you, with my husband and son in tow. He is not my president, but this is still my America.
And at the end of all of it, at the end of this chapter in this story on this shelf, I am still left to turn the pages of stories that captivate hearts and minds far more than mine ever could. And so it is here that another author’s words mean the most in my heart and, I profoundly hope, in yours.
“Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.
We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” –J.K. Rowling