My family has a tradition: Every New Year’s Day we go for a hike and share our mantras for the next year. Often I can’t wait for this tradition, to wave goodbye to an old year and welcome the new. But this year feels different. When I read that in 2015 there was a 67 percent jump year over year in hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S., I know our family needs to greet 2017 with action, not just words. A specific phrase about what we each want out of 2017 doesn’t suffice.
Don’t get me wrong — I love words. To help ease the despair I’ve felt since the election, I’ve been using a new phrase picked up from a wise friend: “All we have is the grace of right now.” If I wanted a tattoo, I’d ink the word “grace” on my wrist. Instead, my husband and I took a long walk in late November and hatched a plan on how to best lead our kids out of 2016 and into 2017. Part of it: Start regularly volunteering together.
We’ve long wanted to do this but my husband and I only leapt into action because some days the news is too grim for me to pretend I’m fine. One afternoon it got so bad that my husband marched me off to a local restaurant to eat nachos and talk me through my fear. He told me we can’t control the world even though I wish we could. We can’t move backwards and undo hate crimes. What can we do? Take care of what’s right in front of us. We can donate and volunteer.
This all sounded so glorious. I imagined a family meeting with glasses of purified water and children talking like world leaders. Instead, I got real life. One night after dinner I said to my almost 12-year-old and almost 15-year-old daughters, “This year we want you to help us plan where to donate.” (My husband and I had set aside money to donate during the holidays and to start a regular monthly donation.) “Who,” I asked my kids, “do you want to help?” Their response: Pets. “We’d like to help all of the homeless animals.”
This is not the picture I had in mind. I thought they’d talk about Syrian refugees and hate crimes and the Southern Poverty Law Center (all of which I add to the list). My husband said he’d like to donate locally, to organizations like Teen Feed, which helps homeless youth, or Childhaven, which supports children who’ve been neglected and abused. We created a list and I ended our impromptu family meeting by saying we’ll decide which organizations to pick after we research the ones we’re each most interested in.
Of course, we never made the time to thoroughly research that list. Instead, a few weeks later, we found ourselves with another quiet evening at home. Again, the topic of donating and volunteering came up naturally. There was no grand summons to a meeting, no solemn space set around the dining room table. I just picked up our list of ideas after dinner and started reading them off, which inspired my teen to ask, “Why are we doing this?
“Because it’s been a goal of mine since I gave birth to you that we donate money as a family and volunteer together,” I reply.
And so my tween picked an animal rescue charity, my teen chose Teen Feed and my husband and I decided to donate monthly to Childhaven. It’s nothing grand though it felt special. We looked at cute animal pictures online; we talked about a recent field trip to a food bank. We pondered a few places where we’d like to volunteer: a place that packages food for food banks, shelters and meal programs, Discovery Park and Save Our Wild Salmon. It was a normal family night and in that, I found solace. My despair, for a moment, quieted. Here, I realized, is the grace of right now.