It has been a big couple of weeks for history. As a kid in school, I often wondered what it was like to live through the revolutionary and evolutionary times that happened before my existence, the moments that became parts of our collective story destined to be taught for generations. Now I know. And it has been both terrible and awe-inspiring.
In all of these circumstances of witnessing events that will undoubtedly make their marks on history books, my first concern has been the lens through which my children will interpret them. Four years ago, they were blissfully unaware of the election process, of the differences between political parties, or how government works. But now, they are fifteen and twelve.
They are both old enough to have a working understanding of reality and some rudimentary political knowledge, but young enough that they don’t have much prior first-hand context to use as a barometer. In essence, they are at the extremely impressionable stages of creating their baselines.
So when, on January 6th, a group of fellow U.S. citizens attacked our nation’s capitol building, replaced the American flag with one bearing the name of a singular man, and committed acts of violence and murder because they were systematically led to erroneously believe that man was cheated out of re-election, it became part of my children’s baseline beliefs about our democratic process in action. I grew up with what now seems like a luxury: the belief that voting is a sacred right and a way for my voice to be peaceably heard. But they will always have that whisper of doubt around it, that it won’t be respected, and the fear that it could be the catalyst for a war declared by people who don’t agree with it. They are old enough to internalize the horror, to comprehend all the ways it was wrong, and to recognize these were not some elusive “bad guys,” but everyday people who live alongside us. Yet they are young enough that this will likely be their first cognizant memory of a presidential election, the one they will carry with them every time they step into a voting booth.
But there are other baselines being formed as well.
Like on January 20th, when in spite of the unthinkable happening just weeks prior, democracy prevailed. When they heard a new rightfully-elected president speak words of decency, of hope, and of extending an invitation to build bridges. When they witnessed leaders of the opposing party acknowledge the importance of this day regardless of affiliation and show the kind of civility that can still come with disagreement. When they were graced with the words of a young black poet laureate who gave name to the pain while also holding tight to the faith that we will continue to grow and triumph even in our brokenness. And when they saw, with eyes and minds and hearts still malleable, the very first African American…Asian American…WOMAN sworn in as vice president. That moment was as important for my son to see as it was my daughter. Because they are old enough to grasp the historical significance of it. But they are young enough that it will become such a familiar moment in their history that never again will such an accomplishment be extraordinary. It will be their baselines.
And that is why I will choose to continue moving in the direction to which Hope points.
Here’s to better baselines.
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Photo: “Kamala Harris” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0