For I had forgotten how much light there is in this world, till you gave it back to me.
– Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea
Jack Gilbert once wrote of grief as a heavy box that we carry: the weight ever pulling on our limbs, muscles frayed beyond exhaustion, and only temporary relief when adjusting the load. Our backs slowly hunching from the weight of a broken heart. When it comes to grief, it is oddly paradoxical that we are laden in the midst of loss—weighed down by the hollow indentation of a mattress, struck by the sight of an empty chair, or raw at the precise but gaping wound now present in our lives.
You came to us in the presence of that void. Your mother and I had spent the past few weeks mourning the passing of her Lola—your great-grandmother. We had yet to adjust to a reality without her wisdom, warmth, and love present in our lives. Being honest, there are still days when it feels like we never will.
Our personal mourning was compounded as it took place during a period wherein our nation fell under the specter and shadow of an upswing in white supremacist rhetoric and action. All of it culminating in the election of a president that announced his candidacy with a racist signal flare and meandered into the White House with no evidence of pivoting away from that ignominious starting point. I remember that somber morning in November—after having learned the election results—and sitting on the corner of our bed while your mother slept, I wept. I wept for my mother, my sister, and myself—immigrants, all of us. I wept for the immigrant community I’d only a month ago begun working on behalf of. I also wept for you.
But as I watch you sleep between your mother and I, peacefully secure in your innocence, I know that this cannot hold. That I must resist the temptation to allow my grief to wrap me in its toxic embrace. That the world I want to build for you necessarily requires me to find a thing I’ve felt has been just outside of my reach for some time: hope.
A few days ago, I heard someone tell a story about three stone cutters. A man observed the three working and after a time, asked each what it was they were building. The first indicated that he was merely cutting stone. The second indicated that he was building a wall. The third, being so enthused with the project, didn’t wait to be asked before exclaiming, “I’m building a cathedral.” The reflection being that we are often too consumed with our immediate tasks that we fail to realize the immense beauty we are involved in constructing. That we are too busy to dream. Worse, what if I’d become too calloused and weary? So broken that I did not even dare to dream.
Building a world worth living in—one that honors the dignity of every person—will obviously require work. And what we are building, love, is a great thing. A space where people might no longer have to fear being ripped from their families by armed agents of the government for an action our system defines as equivalent to a parking ticket, but treats with the severity of violent criminals. That people within the walls we claim are rehabilitative actually receive care and programming aimed at their rehabilitation instead of being tossed into facilities that perpetuate the conditions that locked them up in the first place. That we imagine a world where incarceration is at the very least rooted in ensuring the people placed in the system are treated with care and retain their humanity. And that we imagine a system wherein we no longer contend with the decimation of communities of color due to biases playing themselves out in real time to devastating effect.
But to build this, we must see it. To see it, we must dream it. To dream it, we must hope. And in order to hope, I have to once more believe—in the midst of unrelenting dark—that light exists even if I cannot see it. A light I felt that gray morning in November, dimming. It is so clear to me now that I’d been searching for one more reason to dream.
You are still asleep and as I listen to your soft breathing, taken by this precious gift that just last year I’d only allowed myself to whisper the possibility of, I am grateful to have somehow won the child lottery with you. Because from the day you were placed in my arms, I felt the slow softening, the true healing, of my broken and hardened heart. A healing without which I could not dare to dream.
We are allowing ourselves to envision a world that is in fact impractical, but one that is achievable. Because what is your story if not impractical and improbable? A story forged in the crucible of grief but realized by hope. A story that necessitates bringing far flung characters—one born in the Philippines, the other born in California to immigrant parents—together in ways more intricate, yet somehow more intentional than even the most ambitious of novels. Yours is a story that anchors the building in the immediate, while also pointing me towards tomorrow. A bright beacon of light pointing to what must be achieved, and what I know is so very real.
I have not come all the way back, but I’m on the path and that’s enough. The hope I’ve found illuminates the destination such that, even as shadow encroaches on the footpath, the cathedral we aim for remains in sight. That light you’ve given me—that spark—is the engine upon which my hope burns. To see a world made more ready for you: the dream of your parents, alive and breathing and precious.
Rumpus original art by Eva Azenaro Acero.