A part of me feels silly doing this. Another part is saying, Why not? It’s worth the time.
After all, in the past, this has worked before: where I’ve written about someone close to me, and in the process somehow (maybe my subconscious lights up and is fueled by what’s internal) I am able to share a moment or two with that individual in my dreams. I did this when I was trying to express myself after my grandfather passed away. He was a man who came to the U.S. in the 1960s, when the country’s immigration system was overhauled to allow a brown man like him to arrive and make a new life for himself. His death was sudden, and I felt rattled. He was a doctor who operated a small clinic in the city, and treated everyone who would come in, often finding ways to take care of them without getting paid. I was inspired by him, so when he passed away, I felt adrift. I put down my feelings on paper as a way to navigate my own emotions. In the end, I saw him in a dream one night. We didn’t talk much, but it was important to me, and so I thought, why not try it with you as well? Maybe you’ll see, hear, or sense this, and we can share some fragments of time on some other plane of existence.
I know. That’s pretty meta. But that’s how I’m feeling right now. Not in a completely bad way though. I’m not that dour. However, to be honest, this past year has been tough, with the police violence that’s taking place, the increased level of hate, and a lot of us lacking a vision on what to do next. I’m sure you’ve kept up to date on what’s happening down here. But I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, and was in fact, getting some rest, especially since you deserve it after all those years of hardship. In that case, I’ll just give you a quick summary:
The U.S. had its first black President. His name is Barack Obama. It’s his last year in office. He’s done some great things for people, like healthcare and expanding rights. But he’s also been continuing the drone program abroad. Again, I’m not sure how much you’ve kept up, but drones are these mini-planes that drop bombs. Unlike actual planes though, they are piloted by someone miles away. This is probably sounding strange to you, so I’ll skip over this thing called the internet, and the fact that food can be microwaved.
What I really want to tell you though is, you’re still my hero but I don’t understand how you did what you did. How did you manage to keep up your sense of hope? Your sense of courage? That feeling that things were worth it?
I’m not being pessimistic. I promise. I’m a privileged person. While I could whine and complain about what’s going on in the world, there’s someone out there who’s actually experiencing that pain first-hand. So that’s not what I’m trying to convey to you.
I’m just in awe of how you did what you did, without utterly throwing in the towel and walking away. I mean, even when you got the key civil rights bills pushed through, after all the martyrs who had to die, people who knew who got beat, and the vicious terrorist attacks you had to face, you continued to do more than just sit on your laurels and enjoy some time off. Instead of fading away and waiting for someone to interview you for your movie biopic, you started a poor people’s campaign. You began to speak out against American imperialism and capitalism too.
Look. I know people try to make you out to be this guy who just loved and hugged everyone, but I know that you were a revolutionary. You put your body on the line for the sake of others. You wanted the country to look itself in the mirror. You risked your entire life in order for ordinary people everywhere to have a chance at dignity. My grandfather was one of those people. When you pushed for a change in the immigration system, my grandfather was one of the countless people of color who were able to reach these shores for the first time. For that, I’m forever grateful.
But please, if you do hear this, please, tell me how you kept going?
Because right now, the times aren’t dark, but they’re not too bright either.
I hate to mention this, but there’s a man named Trump who’s able to get a lot of folks riled up. He’s this billionaire (yes, we have those now), who’s telling his supporters that Mexicans are evil and that Muslims are all terrorists. What’s worse is that he’s gaining popularity because he’s tapping into people’s prejudice and hate. Stuff like this should’ve ended, right? I mean, I’m not the kind of person who actually thinks this is anything different from our past. And I’ve been trying to tell people who care that Trump, and all those like him, aren’t something new. They’re as American as apple pie and slavery. They’re as disgusting as the Trail of Tears, as disgraceful as the internment of Japanese-Americans. But instead of getting them to see the big picture, many of them just think nothing good can happen, that nothing can change.
How? How? How?
How did you keep up who you were?
Wasn’t it tough always being on the road while your family was home? I’m sure you missed them.
Wasn’t it painful to see young protesters getting clubbed and hosed?
Wasn’t it odd to see others condemn you as some sort of traitor and being spat on?
How did you manage to keep living when you knew that every day could be your last?
I’ve been reading a lot about you. Not to sound like a fanboy. But you were the first American my parents introduced me to. I’ve had my phases of course. There was a time when I got into Malcolm X and people like Huey Newton. I still appreciate them as well. But I’ve come to realize that you were my main source, the one who opened doors in my mind. Also, over time, I’ve realized too that you were human. You had your flaws.
But all this makes me more confused. Were you able to somehow see something that I can’t? Did you too write down your feelings one night and speak with the spirits around us? Did they tell you something that I don’t know?
Every year, I’m left wondering.
Every year, I’m left waiting for something to click inside.
For now, I’m assuming it’s best to stop writing and hope you do want to talk.
Perhaps we can open up the conversation with the pranks you played on friends, and the jokes you shared.
I’ve heard you had a good sense of humor.