Today feels heavy. Like this scarf I’m wearing is full of bricks. But I refuse to let that feeling win.
I say today is a day for dreamers. As our new President is inaugurated, I am choosing hope over fear. Because I must. I want to scream, and maybe I will for a bit, inside my house, as a lamentation of what we have become. But then I will take several deep breaths, let my blood pressure drop a notch, and remember, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Today is a wrenching disappointment for many, but it is not the end.
I say bring on the dreamers.
We had a family double feature last weekend consisting of La La Land and Selma. Two disparate films, but with one important commonality. One is a bittersweet tale of chasing dreams, of fantastical and lovely head-in-the-clouds romanticism. And the other is a hard-to-take portrayal of a different kind of dream, and a struggle that seems so apropos in our current reality. Both are relevant. Both point to the way to handle Right Now.
After the increasingly combative election, and it’s aftermath which we all had hoped would settle the tension but instead ratcheted it up twelve notches, La La Land was like breathing again. The opening scene of joy-despite-obstacles (both literal (an L.A. traffic jam) and metaphorical (breaking into Hollywood)) made me smile so big my face hurt. It was needed, cinematic medicine. It was an escape from reality. But it also touched on deeper questions of dream-chasing. What is sacrificed in the effort? What about when the dream seems to have died?
Selma is about dream-chasing too, though King’s dream was a loftier, more altruistic vision of the future by far. Clearly. The movie dives down into the grit of those days in Selma, Alabama without a hint of romanticism. King wasn’t a perfect person, and the film doesn’t pretend so. But it shows both his moral and strategic motivations for non-violent protesting. It gives life to that movement that is still so relevant today. Especially today. It was a lot for my younger ones to handle. But it seemed important. It seemed essential, as learning about history always is.
Many of my friends are headed to Washington D.C. this week to participate in the Women’s March. I thought of going but in the end decided against it. For many reasons, none of which is disagreement. Their tangible effort to express a belief in the rights of all those marginalized in our society echoes those of decades earlier. And it echoes my own heart. People are people, we have the same hurts and fears, we all bleed and love our friends and get sad when someone says we don’t count. These truths have been instilled in me since I was a child and I hold on to them today.
I go back and forth in my mind about how to handle our current reality in America. About what exactly I can and should do. Where my energies will be best spent. How I can be one of the helpers rather than merely a critic of everything I don’t like. How to be for things instead of against them, as a rule. I spend time thinking of this because it matters. Because I want to use my life well. On behalf of others, not just myself. But how to do that is the sometimes overwhelming question. Especially in the face of big obstacles.
I also believe in picking my battles. Because if everything is a fight with me, eventually nothing I do or say will be taken seriously. If I yell at my kids all the time, the yelling becomes normal and completely ineffective. If I only yell when something really awful is going on, my kids take notice. They feel the importance of the moment, of what I’m yelling about. The same goes for life in general. The squeaky wheel only gets the grease when the squeaking is out of the ordinary. What, then, do I squeak, or yell, about?
One battle I am determined to fight: teaching my children about empathy. It’s a battle of daily decision. Of impressing upon them our equality with everyone else and imagining what it must be like to be that other person. After watching half of Selma the girls were getting ready for bed, brushing their teeth and arguing about who touched whom with lotion on her hands. One felt offended at the other’s (moisturizing) assault. It was the perfect teaching moment.
“Can you imagine what it must have felt like for the people marching for their right to vote? They didn’t even have the power to choose their leaders. And then they were hit and kicked and yelled at. It must have felt awful. And they didn’t fight back; they were peaceful. That must have been so hard.”
They stopped and thought. I watched the wheels turning. They got it, in whatever nine and five year old ways they could. One more step toward an empathetic world view. And one small thing I could do.
Which brings me back to La La Land. Some will surely be angry at my comparison of a movie about privileged, white kids trying to make art, and one about poor, black people fighting for their rights. And if I were saying they were equally important in the span of history, that would be fair. But they’re both about dreams – not letting them die. One can assist the other.
Here’s to my friends marching this weekend in D.C.
And here’s to raising up the next generation of dreamers.
May they dream big.
Inspiration to help the dreaming…
A portion of Dr. King’s “Where Do We Go From Here” speech
Night Has Passed lyric video, The Brilliance