It feels like it’s been forever since I wrote about Brock Turner. Remember him? Stanford swimmer who got off way to easy for raping an unconscious young woman. How many terrorist attacks have there been since then? Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge, Nice. How many unbelievable things has Donald Trump said since then? And his popularity is GROWING. If you’re anything like me, just reading one’s Facebook feed can make you feel…well…hopeless.
A few weeks ago, Amy and I dragged our two young boys on a plane to New York City from the Bay Area for a family get-together and a surprise birthday party for my older brother. Two young boys cooped up on an airplane for six hours is not something I would wish on anyone. It’s not that they are badly behaved (well, one of them is quite the handful), it’s the stress and anticipation of not knowing whether or not they will behave and of course the not so subtle stares from other passengers.
Since our visit — which was magical for the boys in so many ways because they got to hang out with their cousins who they don’t see often enough — and I got to see my family — I’ve been thinking about why New York is so special to me. Yes, it’s my hometown and where I spent the first 25 years of my life. But, it’s more than that to me. This was the first trip where I could really see New York through my boys’ eyes. Nearly everyone we encountered – at Starbucks, on the Subway, on the street – looked to be some combination of stressed, unhappy and angry. Not my boys. I watched as a young woman mouthed to her friend, “I wish they would just shut up,” referring to my boys who were having the time of their life, and narrating it loudly, on the N/R train. Sorry young lady, but the subway is awesome, and you live in the greatest city every created. You should try to enjoy it. I watched in wonder as my boys fed carrots to Winston, a big white horse by Central Park, and then begged for a ride in Winston’s carriage. I watched Alex feed pigeons in the park, and watched Ryan being carried around the zoo by one of his cousins. I watched the expressions on Alex’s face, riding the M15 bus with grandma and his cousin uptown. As not yet three-year-old Ryan looked out our hotel window and exclaimed, “this is so cool” I realized they see something us adults struggle every day to hold on to…they see hope for what is outside their immediate world and what is ahead of them. And they see the wonder of it all.
The first night we were in New York, Amy and I decided to take the boys to the upper East Side and show them where mommy and daddy used to live long before we had children. We knew the boys wouldn’t understand or even care, but it was a fun thing to do for us. We haven’t lived in New York since 1998, Amy on 85th and York and me on 80th and York. Just random luck that we lived so close to each other when we first met. I was shocked to see that my old apartment building was only about five stories high. I remembered it being this huge apartment complex. Amy felt the same thing. New York has always been so big for us. We walked by the diner on 81st and 1st that we used to go to all the time when we first started dating and I was so excited to tell anyone that would listen that this used to be “our place.” I would eat french toast (some things don’t change) and Amy would get waffles and BACON and who even knows what we talked about all those years ago. It was an amazing nostalgic walk down memory lane, made even better by having our two boys with us. So much has changed. Those eight months with Amy in New York — the last time I would ever live there — were all about hope. We were falling in love, we were moving across the country to start a life together and we had the world at our fingertips. All we had was hope and opportunity. Columbine was a year or so away…no one had ever even heard of Osama Bin Laden, and we got to the airport 10 minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart (note: I don’t at all miss those crazy runs through the airport).
We discovered that same night that Morgan Freeman was staying at our hotel. Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite all-time movies (I’ve yet to meet someone that doesn’t love that movie). We rode the elevator with Mr. Freeman and Amy joked with him about how much I used to make her watch Shawshank when we first started dating. No selfies, no autographs, just small talk with a very famous person. Hearing his voice was beyond cool. Shawshank was really about hope, right? Early in the movie after Andy Dufresne spends time in the “hole” for broadcasting Mozart over the prison public address system, he tells his buddies that it was the easiest time he ever did because “they” can take everything from you, but they can’t take what’s inside…music for him represented hope. Morgan Freeman’s character Red chastises him and tells him that “hope is a dangerous thing.” At the end of the movie as Red is sitting under that big oak tree reading a letter in which Andy encourages him to join him in Zihuatanejo, Andy states, “hope is a good thing…probably the best thing.” Andy was right.
So I’ve been thinking about hope a lot these past few weeks and I’ve realized that in most everything I really enjoy, one of the key themes is hope. I love baseball. It’s the only major sport without a clock…until the final out, there’s always hope…always a chance. To me, football is just watching grown men knowingly kill each other….slowly. I love Star Wars (A New Hope!) and I’d be happy to give you a very long lecture on why everyone should love the Rocky movies; they are all about hope and love, and being the underdog.
Being a good parent is all about hope. We want a better future for our children. We want them to be ok, to be happy. We’re hoping all the time that things will work out. And that’s why Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention resonated so much for me, and for so many other people. She wasn’t the First Lady that night, she was the First Parent. I’ve heard all of the “I believe the children are our future” speeches before, but she was talking to us as parents (and you don’t have to be a parent to be a role model for kids) — giving us hope, even a roadmap, telling us that “our words and actions matter” and “we as parents are their most important role models” and of course “when they go low, we go high,” something I think many of us parents will parrot back to our children.
The upcoming election is about “fear” vs. “hope.” It’s about whether we believe in hope like Andy or that we’re better off being ruled by Warden Norton.
Last week, in perhaps an ominous sign for what’s to come, the big white oak tree that Red sits under as he reads Andy’s letter at the end of Shawshank was knocked over by high winds.
But as Andy says about hope being a good thing…”good things never die.”
Photo courtesy of Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wispolitics/