(Thank you @Susie for the prompt.)
Riva, dear Riva,
Sweet, fierce, gorgeous heart and girl of 20-months of life. Can you feel our faces following yours? Your mama-moon and father-sun faces orbiting your every step, touch, reach, facial expression? Is it any wonder that women walk the world seeking the highest expectations of love when they have been adored with such obsessions of unconditional love by their mothers and fathers?
It all makes sense now.
Riva. I write to you this letter from a perch overlooking a Pacific sunrise some 2,700 miles away from you. I imagine you waking up this morning, calling my name, and having just enough of a grasp on the concept of time to wonder briefly where I have gone. That wells tears in my eyes. You’ll have to forgive me, as you might one day ask of your own daughter, for the inherited gene of being both an introvert and fiercely independent spirit, who needs solitude (preferably in nature) to sort out her feelings and fights.
Fights. I did not think I would end that sentence that way, but there it came and it’s why I’m here. You, daughter, as everyone who knows me, will know me by my laugh, which follows me everywhere and is a beacon of my location. But you daughter, not as everyone knows me, will also know me by my fight. And it’s of this disclaimer I am writing you.
We are in fragile times love. Admittedly, selfishly, ignorantly, I brought you into this world clinging to my hope that a new era of empathy, humility, equality, respect and responsibility to each other, as basic-and-same human beings, and to the planet, as an extension-of-our-own-bodies, was around the corner.
But I was wrong. And for two months I have been struggling restlessly with the sudden death of that hope.
Here is what I see right now:
You were born into a country where mentally ill human beings are not cared for, but given access to weapons made exclusively to kill other human beings, which they take into airports and malls and schools, almost daily, to kill innocent citizens and children. And *people do nothing.
You were born into a world where you will not ever get to witness many of the great beasts of our planet’s finest creation: Leatherback turtles, Javan rhinos, Chugach orcas. Each will have completely expired from existence, awe and curiosity of their beauty never to be inspired again, by the time you come of age. Because man ripped the eggs from their bellies, poached their horns for dollars, and polluted vast oceans with oil-spills, plastics, chemicals, and ice-melting gasses. And *people do nothing.
There are wars across the ocean, and right in our nearest cities, where human beings are targeted because of their body born into, name born into, borders born into, or the god they choose to send their gratitude and grief to. And *people do nothing.
You were born into a country where one in every four of your aunts, grandmothers, female schoolmates, and girl neighbors, has already, or will become, a victim of sexual assault by a man. Where a presidential candidate bragged on indisputable-record of his sexual attacks on women and not only did he never apologize, but he was never even ASKED to apologize. The people did nothing. Women did nothing. And in fact they did worse: they allowed the man to be elected to the highest level of voice and representation to the world.
Tears, tears, tears of shame I cry now: for my role in it all. For my complacency. For my short-sighted- and narrow-minded-ness. For my blinding, ignorant, stupid, hope. For my tongue-biting politeness. For my stalling and distraction and inaction.
And so many more tears of shame: for the raped, pillaged, and broken planet and people you are inheriting.
Riva, my sweet child, it is the hardest thing I can say and admit: I cannot make it right.
We are in too deep. The damage to the planet, to species, to eco-systems, and to bodies of water and bodies of humans, done. Beaten, broken. Irreparable.
The only thing left that I can do is fight. For someone accustomed to the nearsightedness of privilege, it’s a learning curve that humbles me in height; makes me feel clumsy and stupid and inadequate. With windows of darkness, outside and in, that frighten me, in their expanse. And the man who married me has already wondered about the changing constitution of the body waking up next to his. But this I can do, for you, every day. I can wake up and ask myself: What bit, what action, what thing, can I DO today?
Today, it’s this apology, to you, sleeping, innocent, girl child: for the violations and violence of man, to your planet, to your environment, to your ecology, to your rights, to your sex – that I see ALL around me.
Tomorrow, I will wake up and ask myself again: What bit, what action, what thing, can I DO today? What does my activism look like TODAY?
As I will ask of myself the next day. And that which follows.
And you are not without a role; not, unfortunately, without a sacrifice, my love. Next week, I will again leave you and your brother sleeping at home with a sitter so that I can march on the streets with other sisters, mothers, girlfriends, daughters, and grandmothers. Raising our fists and voices in rejection of what we see — and in reclamation of the soul we have lost and are due. But there’s risk and anger and absence involved. And these are tolls you will inevitably be charged.
But you are a girl. And self-sacrifice makes the feminine what it is. The female form, of its essence and function, is made to donate directly of her body for another. You pulled the calcium right out of my teeth to form your bones, as I did my mother. (We are a lineage of women with depleted teeth!) You did not need to ask politely, or to beg, or demand for this favor. The question was moot because the exchange was simply symbiotic. Be it by infant, art, or education, I do believe it’s one of woman’s most natural inclinations to give wholly and freely of herself. To foster and protect. A cell of life. From conception till death. Women have, through the history of humanity, been exploited for this instinctual willingness to self-sacrifice. Nothing will change there. Nor should it. It’s our sword, our shield, our very blood. It’s what makes us righteous. Men will claim righteousness based on stupid things, like political power and physical strength. But women know, in their bones, that righteousness only comes at the eclipse of ego; at that perfect, blinding-white-light-rimmed alignment of giving and honor that snuffs suffering. This drive for selflessness, you inherited with your body. As much as we try to gender-neutralize your young experiences, we are already blinded by glimpses of it rising.
This all goes to say and ask of you: Please allow that which mother-bears you to be extended in love-based furor, to defending everything that is delicate, modest, humble, threatened. May you read this letter one day, understand this feminine drive, and forgive me for the risk, anger, and absences involved in the way I answer the question of the shape and form of my activism.
A girlfriend recently sent me this quote from Rilke:
“Take your practiced powers and stretch them out until they span the chasm between two contradictions… for the God wants to know himself in you.”
Your name, Riva, in Latin, means to re-new or re-gain strength. And when I come home — and watch your sleeping limbs twitch, and reach for your outstretched arms, and cradle that soft head against my chest — that is what you do for me: fill me with love and reason and fire and rejuvenation. You are the river that sweeps my insides of the poison of anger and readies it, again, as a vessel for the fight and action of aligning my body and soul for the flow and expressions of right and goodness. Know that’s how you already, selflessly, give to me. Riva-ji. I wish I could promise you more in return. But my new humbled hope is only that we one day find and take hands with other in the chasm between acceptance and resistance, gratitude and furor, absence and presence.
*albeit a few good