What Are Your Wildest Dreams?

20220117-140357maria1.18 Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper: What Are Your Wildest Dreams?
“Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.”
—Coretta Scott King


I've Been Thinking...

I woke up Friday and went about my usual morning routine. My house is quiet in the early hours, which means I can hear every creak and crack as I make my coffee. 

“It’s going to be a good day,” I whispered to myself. “My essay is done. My schedule isn’t packed. I’m looking forward to my morning meditation and the day ahead.”

Then about 30 minutes later, just after this feeling of ease had set in, I picked up my phone. My eyes scanned my morning email newsletter from The New York Times and fell on the headline of David Brooks’ latest column: “America Is Falling Apart at the Seams.”

America has been on my mind a lot lately. She has been the focus of most of my new year’s conversations. I’ve found myself engaged in trying to think creatively about what myself and others can do, both personally and professionally, to make sure our country doesn’t fall apart.

We can’t let this happen. Not on our watch. I’ve pushed back against those who have been predicting doomsday, those who have been throwing up their hands and saying there is nothing to do and—even worse—giving up. I really don’t care for people who give up because I grew up in a home where that wasn’t allowed. You were expected to give back to your country. It was never a question. I grew up at a time when one delivered what was expected of them.

My curiosity got the best of me when I saw Brooks’ headline, so naturally I clicked to read it. I wish I hadn’t, because it took me down a dark hole. Brooks writes about reckless driving on the rise, hate crimes surging, a drug epidemic that just keeps getting worse, and so many other things that are ailing our country right now. Bigger picture, though, Brooks writes about a “long-term loss of solidarity, a long-term rise in estrangement and hostility” that we seem to be experiencing, and states that things are dire at this moment in our nation’s history.

After sitting with his words for a bit, I thought to myself, “OK, there it is. We can all look at that, come together, and say ‘not on our watch.’ Perhaps now we can all wake up and say, ‘What are we doing to each other? We are better than this.’”

We are better than this. I know we are.

This past week, the president of the United States called on the U.S. Senate, which he says is a shell of its former self, to pass voting rights legislation. He reminded us all, once again, that our experiment with democracy is fragile and that it’s on the line. He urged us to recognize that voting rights are critical to maintaining the health of our democracy, and that the historic filibuster might need to be altered to get a win.

Not long after the House passed the president’s voting rights legislation, two senators from the president’s own party rebuked him and the passage of voting rights. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Supreme Court said no to the president’s proposed federal vaccination mandate for businesses. 

I don’t know about you, but I find myself having to reassure myself a lot that things are going to be OK. I find myself bolstering myself, bolstering my kids, and bolstering others by saying, ‘No, no, no. It’s not that bad. There is so much good in our country. The vast majority of us aren’t throwing temper tantrums. We aren’t fighting on planes or storming the Capitol. We are good, decent, compassionate, caring people who give back and who want our country to be great.”

Just as I was sitting absorbing Brooks' piece and reflecting on our country, my son Christopher sent me an article about a friend of his from high school who was tragically and brutally murdered on Thursday in broad daylight at her job. A man just walked into the furniture store where she worked and stabbed her to death, just like that. The picture of this beautiful young girl’s face stared at me through my phone. I thought of her life cut painfully short. I thought of her parents, her siblings, her friends, and my son. 

Before you say, “Maria, this is going on in cities all across our country,” let me say that I know that. But I never want to be numb to news of this kind of violence. I never want to accept this as our normal, as our new way of life. I can’t. I know the damage that a senseless act of violence like murder does to a family. It's lifelong. 

After taking this all in, I knew I had to throw out my previous essay and write this one. 

Goddammit, my fellow citizens. We have got to reclaim this narrative about our country before it’s too late.

Look, we are on a precipice, and when one is on a precipice—when one is at a crossroads, when one looks in the mirror and doesn’t recognize the person staring back at them anymore—well, that’s a real come-to-Jesus moment. That’s a moment of clarity, as they say in the recovery movement. That’s rock bottom.

Many of us have experienced those moments on a personal level. Now it’s our country’s turn, and we have got to rise. We have got to change this narrative, and we have got to do it now. Right now. The vast majority of us actually agree on vaccinations, masks, gun reform, and voting rights. The vast majority of us condemn acts of senseless violence. We stand against acts of hate like the one that took place yesterday at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas (prompting yet another essay rewrite). It is unacceptable that our fellow citizens cannot practice their faith in peace. The vast majority of us are grateful to live in this great country with the system that our founding fathers implemented. 

We can and must get louder. We are being consumed by a negative narrative, one that frightens people and scares them away from one another. We can do better. I’m not suggesting that we be naive or live in denial. I’m suggesting that we look for all the other stories out there, the ones where everyday Americans are reaching across the divide, helping each other, and welcoming each other in. The ones where folks are hosting Sunday dinners, listening to one another’s pain, and calming fears.

This is a new year. It’s a critical year. We can continue to throw temper tantrums, defy subpoenas, and threaten people who hold different opinions from our own. Or we can lead. We can lead from our hearts. We can use our minds and bodies to pave a different path forward.

Tomorrow, our nation will celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It’s both a day of service and a day to ask ourselves about our dreams. Do you have a dream? Don’t tell me no. Don’t tell me you are too old to dream. Don’t tell me your dreams can’t be realized. Tell me your greatest hopes. Tell me about your visions. Tell me how we are going to save our beautiful country. Tell me what you are going to do to walk us back from the precipice. Tell me your dreams, and I’ll tell you mine.

I dream of a country that finds its way home. I dream of a country that makes room for all of us, one that accepts and doesn’t judge. One that honors the goodness and the divinity in each of us. We are a big living experiment, and it’s up to us in real time to readjust our sails. It’s up to each of us to put forth a better storyline, one that competes with all the others out there about doom and gloom. It’s a storyline that happens to be true, and we’ve got to get busy making it so.

We cannot fall apart at the seams. We must shore ourselves up. We must acknowledge the pain that is rampant, as well as the desire to heal. That’s my new year’s intention. Who’s with me?

Love,
Maria

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