It is 2AM on Christmas Eve. I sneak out of the bed where Sharat is asleep and sit next to our little tree to write by its lights. Shadi is curled up on the couch, where she’s not supposed to be, but I let her stay. Kavi is in his crib, talking in his sleep, “Mommy, hold this.” The only other sound is the hum of the heater keeping out the cold.
This is usually a magical night for me, even as an adult. The pure joy and anticipation I felt as a little girl, straining to hear sleigh bells before falling asleep, returns to me like an echo. It makes me smile, and it makes me sad. Maybe that’s how it has to be for grown-ups, remembering innocence. But my sadness tonight is more than nostalgia. It’s keeping me up, making me twist in the bed. Aleppo. Standing Rock. Berlin Christmas market. Nuclear arms race. Muslim registry. “Heil Trump!” in our nation’s capital. The dissonance between holiday magic and real-world crisis is deafening. Since the election, I have seen anguish in the eyes of people I love when I ask them if they’re okay. So many are not okay, especially if undocumented or gay or Muslim or Sikh or young and black. So many will not be okay. Hate incidents against our communities are already at an all-time high. Soon January will bring the inauguration and first 100 days and state action that will touch every part of our lives. The future is uncertain. But we know enough to know we will need to stand up to protect people from harm with everything we’ve got.
And so I have been quiet this month, spending hours at the library each day reading, thinking, writing, and preparing. All the while spinning magic around Kavi, reading him stories, building cities with blocks, taking him to the zoo and beach and gurdwara, dancing the hokey pokey every night. He just turned two. On his birthday in New Orleans, he saw jazz in the streets and river boats on the Mississippi. His hair gets longer each day and I wonder if I can make a world of magic around him long enough to keep him safe from cruelty. How long before I have to send him school and the prospect of bullies? How long before he watches the news and hears racism and sexism, not on the fringe but from centers of power? How long before I have to explain any of it? I think of my friends with older children and marvel at how they do it. Then I remember that Kavi has already been exposed to hate this election year. My father was taking him on a walk in our neighborhood wearing a baby carrier when a passer-by said: “You’re wearing one of those suicide bomber vests.” It was that casual. How can I protect him from hate when it’s in the air he breathes?
I pause. Tonight we watched Kavi put out the cup of milk and plate of cookies for Santa Claus with such ceremony and joy. Just like when he counted to ten before leaping onto the bed today. Or sang his ABCs on our way to the bookstore. Or toasted my cup when he had his first taste of egg nog. In the last few weeks, so many friends and family members have read him books and spun him in circles and sang with him on FaceTime. They have shown him birds on the beach and dolphins in the sea and sunset from the top of a Ferris wheel. Kavi’s world is magical not just because of me and Sharat but every person who enters his day, even the DMV lady who blows him kisses. I see now, more clearly than ever, the real magic of his world is love.
Love is the rabbit we pull out of a hat. Love without reason. Love that comes from nothing besides our own will. To love in a time of rage is perhaps the deepest resistance and the greatest magic. The love poured into my son right now is the same as the love poured into me as a little girl. It’s what has made me strong enough to fight, to write this, to hold sadness and still declare hope. And it’s how love is revolutionary.
Now I can sneak back into the room and go to sleep, having found my prayer and wish: May every child receive love tonight. May every grown-up remember the love poured into them. And may we wake — in our hearts and in our country — with magic that makes us unafraid.