Kick crawls into my lap and she whispers to me, “Shhh, dark out” in the very early morning when she wakes up.
She wakes at 6, almost every day (when she doesn’t wake up at 5:30) and she wants toast and milk and yogurt and to watch cartoons with the sound almost off. She shouts “up, up, up” in her crib until I go and get her, but if I dare speak in a normal voice she reminds me, “Dark out. Daddy sleeping.” She is the keeper of her father. If his office door is closed, it’s “Daddy working.” If it’s dinner time for her, “Daddy too?” She is the keeper of her father and enlists me in the task, and in the mornings we conspire for silence. I pour myself coffee and grab my phone and we cuddle up on the couch, watch Daniel Tiger and Curious George and this weird Canadian show about animals.
If being thankful is knowing you are lucky — we call a store of riches a fortune, after all — then knowing you are lucky is knowing of unluck. Of bad fortune. I’m not saying you have to burn in order to shine; that’s bullshit tea towel wisdom. I’m saying you can’t have contrast without darkness. It’s not a gift or a virtue or anything other than fact.
This time of year is frightening. My grandfather, the best person that I knew, died just before Thanksgiving. My grandmother, a safe place in human form, died the day after Christmas and I’ve had a hard time forgiving Christmas for that. I lost friends this year, to death and disagreement, and I’m watching the Facebook feed and the inbox with trepidation: No one else. No one else can go.
We’re all tired, right? I don’t know anyone who isn’t tired. How are you? I’m tired. I have too much to do and not enough time to do it and somebody’s in the hospital and somebody’s disappeared off the face of the planet and somebody died and somebody’s not talking to me anymore and somebody’s getting fired. Everybody has too much to handle. I offer weak attempts to help, and fail to follow through on too many fronts.
I have this, too. In the early morning when she’s sleepy, Kick reverts to infancy, rubs her face into my shoulder and her hair is soft on my cheek.
Another mother’s child is sleeping outdoors, in the rain, while politicians debate if he deserves their protection. Another mother’s child is dead in the street, with 16 bullets in his body, while commentators talk about the drugs he was on. We are unable to call liars liars anymore, and watching and reading the news has started to feel like taking poison on purpose.
Our national election next year will be about how mean we should be. We have decided to be mean, and now it’s just a matter of degrees. We can’t, it seems, be kind. We can’t take in everybody, we can’t afford it. We can’t hold power accountable, the world will collapse. We think difficulty is inevitability and that the only thing that matters is keeping the people who watch the morning talk shows from having to work. People are telling us over and over it’s impossible to be a better country, because of expenses or risks or … this is not an insurance coverage calculation. This is our immortal goddamn souls, and there’s no such thing as too hard or too much.
I’ve never been afraid for the world my daughter walks, not before this. I want us to think about the past as if it’s not the past but the way forward: The times we did good, the times we did big, the times we took the system apart and built it back up better. I want us to be inspired instead of afraid and energized instead of exhausted. It’s hard when it’s cold like this, when we’re mean like this, when any kind of optimism feels like a joke and everybody’s so goddamn convinced they’re too tired.
I want to shush the world right now, give it a moment to rest.
Because: It’s dark out.