Published on January 17th, 2017 | by Becky Fine-Firesheets3
A Call for Helpers: An Open Letter to My Son by Becky Fine-Firesheets
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Because I grew up in Kentucky, moved to Boston for college and then put down roots in New York City, I fancied my perspective on this election to be a valuable one. For decades I have felt the pain of loving and being loved by people with completely opposite views of mine, have experienced head-aching confusion over the two starkly different futures envisioned for this country, have been pissed off at the establishment for failing to truly serve and unite its people. I’ve tried to write about these things many times during the past few weeks, but nothing was coming out. And then I read Mira Jacob’s article, “Here’s What I’m Telling My Brown Son About Trump’s America,” and realized I was thinking about everything all wrong; I’d been dwelling in my past when really, what matters is our future. As Mira said, “America does not yet know how to love and value its people of color, its immigrants, its Muslims, its gays, its disabled, its women,” but the key word here is “yet.” All of us, children and adults alike, have the power and responsibility to change this. So here’s what I’m telling my white son, myself, and any others who are willing and able to help, about Trump’s America, America after Trump, and life in general.
You are only eighteen-months-old right now, completely unaware of anything beyond the egocentric, toddler bubble you live in, but you will come to awareness during an unprecedented time in this country and I need you to know your role. I was going to tell you these things no matter the outcome of this election, but I was going to wait until you were older. Now I realize that I must tell you these things even though you are too young to understand them. I must repeat them to you and ensure that as you grow and learn and become aware, you understand your position and what you should do.
First off, my son, you are privileged. You have two parents with stable jobs who love and respect one another, a comfortable home in a vibrant city, healthy food whenever you are hungry, more than enough clothes and toys, and uncountable friends and family members who loved you before you were even born. But you need to realize that without any of the things I just listed, you are also automatically given many advantages because of two basic facts: you are white and you are male (though as you grow you may come to identify as a different gender and I will support you the whole way).
With all of this privilege comes great responsibility, and that is the responsibility of being a helper. This is not an easy job. It will be hard and emotional. You will find it unfair that other people who look like you aren’t doing this job even though they, too, have the same responsibility. You will be mad at me for making you aware of this job and never letting you forget it. You will doubt your abilities and strength to continue, and you will want to hide from this job many times. It is okay to feel these things, but it is never okay to actually quit being a helper.
But what does it mean to be a helper? The answer is simple: that you help. This can take many forms, and, like everything, will evolve and change over time. Sadly, being a helper will not fix all of our country’s problems. And no, you will not always succeed at helping, you will not be able to help everyone, and you will not change the reality that some people will never, ever help and will instead act on fear and hatred. But what matters is that you keep trying. So here are some basic tenants I hope will guide you (and myself) through this ever-important job of helping.
- Listen. Listen to people who agree with you, listen to those who disagree. Don’t just wait until it’s your turn to speak but truly hear their words, their voices, their stories and feelings. Ask them questions. Hear their answers. Hear what’s hard to hear. Learn from this. Listen to yourself, too, and to nature and even to silence. “Do not be afraid to hear everything.”
- Be kind. To yourself, to people, to animals, to the earth. Kindness will nourish and heal. It will feed your strength and spread peace. But keep in mind that kindness looks different in different situations. Being kind doesn’t mean always smiling; it isn’t that basic or easy. You will learn over time what kindness looks like to you, and I promise to show you every day what kindness looks like to me. Being kind may be the hardest part of being a helper. So many people aren’t, and it’s easy to become infected with their meanness. What’s even harder is staying kind when you are angry. And you should be angry. But you must learn how to turn that anger into positive action instead of releasing it as hatred or violence. March in the streets, host events, write stories or songs, or even just call a friend; use your anger to reach out, to connect, to make your community stronger.
- Stand up for those who are not as privileged as you. There are many people in our world, our country, our neighborhood, who do not have your privilege. Because they are female, brown, black, Muslim, Jewish, disabled, poor, foreign, gay, trans, or simply just different, other people will make fun of them, threaten them and even hurt them. This was true before Trump and will be true for long after his presidency, but these people are especially afraid right now and we must stand in solidarity with them. This means telling them that we respect and value them, hearing and sharing their stories, volunteering with organizations that support them, and intervening when we witness acts of hatred committed against them. This intervention, like kindness, will look different in different situations; sometimes simply talking to a victim of a hate crime will be enough to end the attack, other times you may need to wait with them until they feel safe again or perhaps even escort them to a safer environment. Remaining calm and mindful will always aid you in this, and I promise to give you the tools you’ll need to intervene as safely and peacefully as possible. But yes, it will feel uncomfortable and scary.
- Find and feel joy. Relish in it. Share it, especially with those who are not lucky like you, through smiling, laughing, and being present. Let yourself feel the joy of love, even if (especially if) you love people who disagree with you. Love can be fraught and complex but that doesn’t make it any less real. Learn what allows you to access joy and include that in your life every day so that when the hard times come, you’re ready.
- Use art. It will help you clear your mind, express yourself and connect with others in new ways. It will allow you to heal and transcend. Art is an important gift to us as individuals, to our American society, and our greater world. Use it freely and often.
- Take care of yourself. Say nice things to yourself in your head. Rest when you need it. Find good friends and hold onto them. Tell them you love them even when you’re mad at them. Let them support you. You can’t help anyone if you’ve neglected you.
- Keep an open mind and don’t lose hope. We are all people made of flesh and bones and hearts and brains, feelings and thoughts, dreams and struggles. We are all born and we all die. We have a plethora of differences, too, but at our cores, we are all made of the same parts. Remember this, celebrate these differences, and stay strong.
Writing to you has given me the strength and clarity I so badly needed. I was knocked down by all the hate that spewed forth across our country, by my own anger and sadness, by the unfathomable task of moving forward. Thank you, for the reminders I needed to stand up and get back to work.
Your devoted Mama
Becky Fine-Firesheets and the Brooklyn Players Reading Society are co-hosting MUTHA’s next live event — MUTHA UP for Reproductive Rights! Find all the details here. Or if you don’t use Facebook (we feel you), here.