Thirteen days have passed since Doomsday arrived in our world. And if I thought I was addicted to social media before, it has now become as necessary to me as my daily three cups of tea. I am addicted to seeing what has happened from moment to moment, which underqualified or downright frightening lunatic he has chosen for his cabinet, which tweet has garnered international attention, which lawsuit he has just settled, which of hundreds of hate crimes will be reported between now and tomorrow…
I find myself standing in the kitchen, next to the teapot. Reading. Checking my phone in subtle silences at happy hour. Reading. Looking at my computer while the students are working. Reading. Sitting at the dentist’s office while waiting for my three girls to get their teeth cleaned. Reading.
I’m not on my bike. I’m not doing yoga. I’m not taking long walks.
I’m immobile. Still numb. Still reeling in the incomprehensible truth of what our world has become.
Even Humans of New York can’t save me from this with his latest stint in Michigan. Yes, we are all human. Yes, we all have problems. Yes, job growth has dragged, Obamacare costs too much, and maybe we needed a change. But the cost of that change has numbed me. It has left me in a swill of late-night insomnia, fretful mornings, catatonic looks at my three girls as I find myself so deep in thought, deep in worry, that I cannot answer their questions about schoolwork, chores, or who got the last marshmallow.
Everything, everyone, every part of my life now rests under this shadow of doubt and fear.
And I am still one of the lucky ones. One of the white, non-immigrant ones. And perhaps that is why I feel so trapped. What people do I have to connect with, to understand why this bothers me so much? Those whites in Macomb County, Michigan who turned their backs on the human race? The ones in the Rust Belt who naively think Trump is going to revive coal mining jobs? The veterans whose benefits will be slashed when we end up spending $25 billion to build a wall against Mexico?
The ones on my Facebook feed (most of whom who have probably already unfollowed me) who will never be swayed by my opinion? Who’d rather take this demagogue for a president than have any hope for the future of humanity?
I am trapped in my White World. It is privileged and ignorant and shameful.
It hasn’t been two weeks. Our world is changing right before our eyes, and simple errands now bring me to tears. Taking my girls to the dentist on Thanksgiving Monday. I picked this dentist when we bought our house a year ago, finally a permanent home after three years of being vagabonds. I was so happy to find a dentist within walking distance of our house. When I first visited in January, I was greeted by two Russian receptionists; all of the other customers were also Russian and spoke in their rapid-fire vocalized native tongue with the employees, presumably about their latest X-rays. My dentist is a Vietnamese immigrant who did a more thorough cleaning and analysis of my teeth than any dentist I’ve ever had.
Why am I writing this? Why does it even matter? I keep thinking about the Hamilton line that bleeps across my mind, “Immigrants get the job done.” As I sat in the dentist’s office this morning while my girls’ teeth were X-rayed and cleaned, I wondered if everything would change. Would he kick them out? Would he shut this down? Would he find some hidden bylaw that would allow him to deport every last one of them?
Their Russian-American dentist sat with me in her office and explained in detail the crooked situation with each of their teeth. And just like the other times I visited, no one else who came in today spoke English as their first language. I wondered if I was the only one willing to step out of my white bubble for a decent cleaning, or if this is really what the world has become.
Cavity-free, we started walking home in early afternoon, deciding to stop along the way for lunch with no particular place in mind. Then, halfway between the dentist and home, we saw a sign that pointed across the barren parking lot of the abandoned K-Mart: “Fresh Mediterranean food!” We didn’t have to think about it. Fresh olives and lamb were calling us. We meandered across the massive vacancy of vehicles to a small shopping center and an even smaller restaurant that, much to my surprise, had several customers sitting and enjoying their falafels.
The Israeli woman who greeted us and took our order was also the head chef. Her name was everywhere–on the signs, below the photographs of she and her family that lined the walls, on the menus, on the lips of customer after customer who came in and gave her a hug. We ordered our gyros, olives, and paninis and settled ourselves into a table between walls of colorful artwork and kitchen cutlery from the countries that line the Mediterranean Sea–scenes from Italy, Israel, France. Soft tunes of guitar, mandolin, and oud filled the earth-toned room as Yaffa’s conversations flowed with the arrival of more hug-bearing customers: “Yes, if your family will be out of town for Chanukah, of course you can come here and light the candles, have some latkes…”
And I looked across the table at my green-eyed girls gobbling up gyros and pita and pit-filled Mediterranean olives, and I wondered what would happen. I wondered what would happen to the beauty of this place, this quilted humanity that encompasses our nation of immigrants, this cute hole-in-the-wall-of-the-world restaurant.
After lunch, Mythili and I headed to the library. (The dentist had asked me, “Where does the name come from? It’s one of the prettiest I have ever seen. And what does it mean?” “It comes from Sanskrit. It means goddess of mythology.” “However did you find such a name?” “From my Indian friend…” and my multiculturalism was swallowed by anxiety).
Once we arrived at book heaven, tears found themselves poised at the corners of my eyes. A simple trip to the library on Thanksgiving Monday. Books were propped up on every shelf, ready to sell themselves to anxious readers of every age. We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball. Women Daredevils. But What If We’re Wrong? Another Day in the Death of America. Rachel: The Story of Rachel Carson. Hatshepsut: The Princess Who Became King. George Washington: The First U.S. President. A Most Improbable Journey: A Big History of Our Planet and Ourselves. Grandfather’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot.
I found myself snapping pics. The titles spoke for themselves. I saw the librarian quietly setting out more, and a sign that read, “Free and Equal Access for All… You Are Welcome Here.”
And for the first time in thirteen days, I felt that I could move. I could go on a bike ride. I could do yoga. I could take a long walk.
I can continue to go to my immigrant-led dentist. And eat falafel at the local Mediterranean restaurant. And bring my daughters to the place where the world can change: the public library, where all walks of life are welcome, will enter, will read… Will open their minds and begin to change the world back.
I can pop my white bubble and hope for a better tomorrow. I can clearly pronounce my daughter’s hard-to-say name (MY-thuh-lee) so the world will learn that multiculturalism is about opening our eyes, our minds, our ears to beautiful new sounds and words and images.
I can be hopeful and thankful on Thanksgiving Monday, on each and every day, that we can win this world back.