I play house and swing on a rocky porch with small vents placed in the brick work where water can drain out, where mailboxes are filled and visitors knock and steps are swept. I play in a damp basement next to the washing machine with a metal kitchenette painted in quaint quilt squares. I play in a tree row, between sidewalk and street, beside a tree that has a hollow, big enough that I have made a story in it. I play in a driveway in a machine pressed baby pool with plastic toys that squirt water. I play balance beam on concrete parking bumpers, two arms held out, one holding a gilded and dripping vanilla ice cream cone which has been dipped into melted chocolate that magically hardens into a crumbly shell in contact with the frozen cream.
I wear tee shirts and knit shorts and sneakers. I have a room with a baby brother, a small bed and a dresser painted green. Some dresses and sandals in the closet. I play Barbies with the little girl the next block down. We listen to records and hold hands when we cross the street while our mothers watch from the yard. My grandparents are complete goodness and love. TV on a stand is evening time and maybe a babysitter or maybe friends coming over and a little boy who plays fort under the dining room table with me. And into my brain drips tidbits of education, tidbits of wrong and right, tidbits of true and not. But a future is laid out in possibility. What we’ve got wrong could be made right.
Let’s not romanticize the American child in the story arc. Let’s not make her not real. For the little house on the little street in the little town in the land filled with little towns and big towns and little cities and big cities is not altogether wholesome. Piano lessons and new kittens are intermingled with shouting matches and dark injustice and an unrelenting squashing fear of splintering the inheritance, deserved or ill-gotten be the gains.
But what was present there? What good thing was present there that is about to be abandoned? That those of us who carried metal lunch boxes and watched Mister Rogers sense is about to be abandoned? I feel it. I know you feel it.
It is the arc toward justice. The arc which was the lowest hum underneath our movement. The slowest and almost imperceptible bend. Within, and before and after, each struggle, we scouted for right for our destination. ‘How to get to right’ used to be the question. It is no longer the question that most of those in power ask one another and play out scenarios for. For the evil and delinquent and careless and selfish among us have proliferated, have reproduced, have multiplied and manipulated and vilified until that noble question begets a scoff, a shrug, and carousing shout and sarcastic cheer. ‘How to get to right’ is no longer the question. ‘How to get’ is.
As a prophet might say, a warning might read, we are heading toward doom. Stop! What is ahead is not the same as the grittiness and dust of real struggle. What is ahead is not the clearing out of old and wrong ideas. What is ahead is not the digging up of dirt or the hanging out of laundry.
This we are heading for is death. It is lies and greed and ugliness. It is crass and obnoxious and willfully ignorant. This destination is contemptible.
We the people, we the working and living must snatch away the helm, overwhelm the evil in the glass encased cockpit, smash it, stand upon it and point ourselves back to that arc. Back to that bend toward justice. Would that we eradicate those who profit off our toil and death. Would that we uplift one another and alter the course of every interaction. Would that we lean so far and so hard that our entire culture bends into kindness and good humor and humility and grace. Bends into the arc of justice.
Would that we pull down the old American monuments and peel away the lief of gilded icons, would that we charge without stopping for incremental celebrations or for explanation to those who have been granted time and access to evidence of the truth yet ignore it. Let us be relentless and restore our pursuit of right that once existed for us American children.
I can hear you, things weren’t ever truly right for us American children. But there was the pursuit of right. The hope of right. The possibility of right.
If you sit us each down and ask us, how many will shrug at the question of allegiance to evil. An angry and immature few. If you sit us each down and ask us, where is it? Will we point? There. There. There there.
Time will not freeze. It is dripping into reality like ice on which teeter the little villages on the edges of our world.
Time will not freeze. It is dripping into consequence like words sprayed onto concrete walls and cold against our pressed faces.
Time will not freeze. Though we want it to, though we want to catch up and clean up and redo and revamp. Damp is the slope before the drain to the pool where it comes due and collects interest. Compounding and sounding like ticks and seconds off counting. Off clocks. Of drowning. Like drops. Like drops amounting. Amounting in one place and slipping down and away and gone. We are running out of time.
Amid the bustling, the smiling and the blank, the myriad of hues and shapes and ages, all is hope. All is hope and goodness advancing. Father, gently stroke your baby. Friend, generously delight in delight. Aged, sing and talk and scatter yourself among us. Young, invest in yourselves. Take a chance. Stand with toes dangling over ridiculous. All is hope. And you as hope are beyond beautiful.
It is what God sees as his giant face is whipped out of air and cloud into shape. All consuming and breathing of objects and souls as fire takes and takes and leaves us with the nutrients to grow anew. It is maybe what God sees.
My mind is all taken up into the air. I am all but dwelling in the other world. Space and stars and galaxies beyond. Daydreaming of night skies. Of rocket boys and girls looking up. Of pictures I have seen somewhere before. Of swirls and lights that assure me our big mistakes are still so very small. I’m looking up for reassurance; away from that little whisper of fear every morning growing louder every day. I hope it’s not too late for the American child.