Katie’s Musings: To Be Better
November 10 2016
I believe in the power of stories. So here’s one.
Tuesday night, as I watched the election returns come in, descending deeper and deeper into a spiral of honest despair for our country and our planet and people of color and Muslims and immigrants, and what this all would mean for the future and for our children… I got a message from one of them. One of mine, anyway.
I spent 7 years as a nanny, which essentially meant that i got to hang out with really awesome and really privileged kids. I’m a poor farm kid from Nebraska, so navigating a place of immense wealth and privilege like Scarsdale, NY, and standing in the school pick-up line with this weird combination of wealthy women in tennis outfits and the women, usually of color, they had hired to look after their kids while did whatever wealthy white ladies do in affluent New York suburbs… that was a weird world for me to walk around in. No one quite knew where to place me… was I one of the mothers or one of the help?
Every day, standing in that line and feeling generally awkward for being there, my day would be brightened when a red-headed bundle of sunshine named Ben came bounding down the hallways of Scarsdale Elementary. When I started working for them, he was 8 and basically Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes comics. Equally mischievous and imaginative and terrifyingly brilliant. And like most brilliant kids, Ben never totally felt like he fit in. In retrospect, I think perhaps it was his capacity for compassion and understanding that set him apart. He had been raised by a Congregationalist mother and a Jewish father, and among his three best friends he counted a Jewish boy, a Muslim boy, and a Hindu boy. They would walk around looking like a mini-United Nations. I remember one day, he found out how much I made and was horrified, worried about me and how I could possible survive on what to him seemed so little, but to me seemed more than ample. Which is funny and privilege-y but also oddly sweet. I would drive him and his older brother Sam to violin lessons after school, and overhear conversations quarks, binary code, the wage gap between men and women, and one particularly intriguing conversation about how science and God could work together.
Last night, while stewing over what I could do or say when this was all over, wondering what the heck I was doing back in a red state after so many years in places like New York and Chicago, where I could be surrounded by people who thought like me and saw the world the beautiful way that I did… a world of hope that felt utterly shattered last night…. I got a message from Ben. He’s 15 now, a sophomore in high school, and he simply messaged me two words. “I’m Scared.”
“Me too, young man, me too,” i said.
“The numbers look bad, and I’m just scared,” he said.
“Yup,” I said, “and on behalf of an older generation, let me offer you, the younger generation, my apologies. I tried. But this state was going red no matter what I did.”
He sent me a heart emoji.
And he said, “It’s not your fault. That’s why it’s important that you stick around in that state.”
…So now, no matter what, I’m stuck. Because this kid… this ridiculously privileged, kind, brilliant embodiment of sheer possibility is counting on me to figure out how to make a difference here, right where I’m at. And it’s personal now. Making a difference for young people like him. But more importantly, for young people who have a whole lot less than him. He’s my why. So for Ben, and for all the kids who watching and learning and living and growing, I have to try to make it better. To be better.