I have a new ritual.
I have a hard time falling asleep, every night. I’m exhausted, every night, like most all of us, but just when I set down my book and turn off my light, my brain pumps a shot of adrenaline into my system, every night. Even if I’m half-asleep already, it happens. Right down to the cellular level, my body knows something ain’t right.
Then I take deep breaths, as full as I can. I activate my flabby diaphragm and fill my lungs over and over again. I hold my spouse. I picture peace. I flip through the snapshots in my mind until I finally fall asleep.
Somehow, I manage to have good dreams some of the time.
When I wake, groggily because I fall asleep too late every night, I have to remind myself who I am and where I am. That’s how badly I sleep now—I have to reset every morning. But worse than the falling asleep is that long daily moment when I rejoin reality. Every morning, I sit up, put my feet down, and my brain has to pause for a moment and say to itself, “It’s real. It’s happening. The country you call home, the one with a founding message that changed the world, a dream of equality as deeply ingrained in you as oxygen, is being run by a hateful special-interest minority group obsessed with profit and the power it brings.”
Granted, this is usually about 5:30 a.m., so my brain really just says, “Ooooooooh f—,” but that’s just shorthand for the longer version. Pre-dawn is no time for unnecessary verbiage.
I doubt this story is unique.
The thing is, the important parts come before and after that moment when I re-enter reality.
Before it, I’m often in a dream, and usually a happy one. More than once, that dream has clearly been of a world after the end to all this. These dreams are recent. For a long time, my dreams were tense. I don’t even know what they were about, but my jaw hurt when I awoke. Clenched.
Lately, though, my dreams are nice. They are of an after-times. I’m there. You’re there. Even you weirdos who hate-read these letters are there, and though I’m sorry for you and your hate now, the after-times hold more beauty for you, too. I believe they will. My cells believe we can make it there.
And we can make it. We know what’s at stake. Many of us always did, but a large swath of America now knows much more about who we really are. Stop saying “We’re better than this” to the news about putting asylum-seeking children in nouveau-concentration camps. We’re not better than that, never have been. Ask a historian. Better yet, ask a Native American, a Black American, a Japanese American about America and children.
We’re not better than that. But we can be. We should be. Most of us aim to be.
My brain comes back to reality every morning, and I remember that we haven’t been the country many of us thought we were. I feel an icy chill for a moment as I come around to who I am and where I am and what’s going on around me, but then I remember what we can be.
Then, every day, I rise. The work lies before me. I do my part in the ways I know how, and I do it every day. I work hard to create a better reality for my children, your children, all children. I work hard to create a better reality for me, for you, for everyone. I don’t go and count money. I count worth. I do the work with the tools I have in the ways I know how.
Friends, many of us do. Let’s wear our hearts on our sleeves so our neighbors see that too. Good work is contagious. Worthy beliefs are contagious. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as unalienable rights? That’s a worthy belief. None of our country’s founding documents are perfect. No text is because all text is written by humans. We are inherently flawed. We all are.
But we have the capacity for love. Deep love. Real love. For all.
You’ve cried watching a video on Facebook or somewhere like it of a soldier surprising the kids upon returning home, of the pitcher hugging his friend he just struck out because his friend means more to him than a trophy, of a stranger caught on video helping an old person across a dangerous road, of a baby laughing. You have. We all have. You don’t know any of the people in those videos. But you cared about the people in them. You have the capacity for deep, real love for people you don’t even know.
You have been conditioned to distrust the unknown. You have been conditioned to fear, usually, brown people. You have been conditioned to assume money is paramount.
Knock that shit off.
We have the capacity for love. Deep love. Real love. For all.
My own children just finished a school year in which, every day, they recited the Pledge of Allegiance. None of our country’s documents—and certainly none of our people—are perfect, but I refuse to release the pure visions of our country. The flag is just cloth. We aren’t pledging the flag itself. It’s symbolism. What my children pledged to every morning, what we have all pledged to, is each other. We’re pledging to liberty and justice for all.
With liberty and justice for all.
My good dreams are interrupted every morning by a jolt back to a grim reality, but the thing about reality is that we get to shape it. I rise from my side of the bed. I rise and go back to the world, day after day, because I love you.