Social justice for ‘the rest of us’

On the way to their town house’s parking lot we smile at each other, quietly, nervously.

You’ve never driven a car, I ask.

No, she says.

Not even once? I ask.

No, she says.

I decide to start in an empty parking lot somewhere; I mention this but I’m unsure if she comprehends. So I drive us to an elementary school on this gray Saturday afternoon.

I wonder often about the limits of our refugees-turned-friends’ current command of English. How do they worry over the way America’s divided about Islam and refugees? How do they react when they hear the voice of our next president?

I’ve not known them long enough to talk politics — actually, that’s not totally true. I guess I just don’t want to have to explain. But of course our friends must understand the tone if not the content of the arguments America’s making among its people. Anger renders our air toxic. We breathe it without choice.

Our friends wouldn’t have asked for it. During the two-year screening process, they only know they want out. I think of that. My friend didn’t know six months ago that she’d be in some American’s (Cheez-Its-scented) minivan doing laps around a parking lot. She didn’t know she was pregnant then. She’s due on my middle daughter’s birthday. She’ll be 34 then, just like me.

They worship at a mosque that received that insipid letter reminding them that terror’s here, too. The letter cheered that Trump’s presidency means what happened to Jews under Hitler will happen to American Muslims under Trump. (Do we not remember? There is nothing new under the sun.) The letter stirred up cries for solidarity and a new feeling of helplessness. Now we’re praying/ wringing our hands/ sending donations to Aleppo.

I hate helplessness. 

I want to do something, to march somewhere, to go somewhere. But here I am. I am the rest of us: the ones who want to be radical but … aren’t. Kids in school, jobs, bills. Classroom holiday parties and we’re out of milk and there’s blue toothpaste all over the bathroom wall — HOW. I WILL KEEP ASKING UNTIL I GET AN ANSWER.

So our family does smaller, such as the small thing of teaching someone to drive.

She’s now behind the wheel. Seat belt on. Feet exploring. She finds the pedal on the left. “Brake?”

“Yes, that’s stop.”

“And — this one?”

“That’s the accelerator. It makes you go.” I charade that.

I learned to drive on country roads when I was 14. My uncle, his daughter, and I took turns behind the wheel of a tiny Dodge, learning the art of accelerating and braking. I think she could use some stretch of country road.

“Now, we’ll go straight” — I motion in the passenger seat like an air traffic controller — “and then we’ll turn.”

“Ahh huh.” She revs it; I put it in gear.

“You push it down slowly. Slowly,” I say, first motioning with my hand, pivoting from my palm. When I realize I’m asking her to catch my words and my symbols, I point to my foot and mime how slowly to push the pedal.

“OK, OK,” she says: and then she does. But now she punches it to the floor and we lurch toward a strip of grass between the lot and a basketball court.  I nicely yell “Brake, brake, brake, BRAKE.” And she finds it. Only the seat belts and Jesus hold us back as we stop.

And we laugh like my girls do when we flip them upside-down — how divine to laugh when all the world is yelling.  

We didn't practice at night, but isn't this pretty anyway?

We didn’t practice at night, but isn’t this pretty anyway?

We practice in that elementary school parking lot for a half hour, going forward and reversing, driving in the pick-up lane. She speaks in Arabic to herself, or maybe to me, thinking like we all do that if we only keep repeating our foreign words (maybe slower, maybe louder), eventually enlightenment and understanding will dawn on our companions.

“More, or are you ready to be done?”

“Stop,” she says, motioning the way umpires call runners safe.  

She notices the school sign. “Yes, that might be the school your kids go to if you live over here when they are 4 years old.”

“Four?” She has the same look as if she’d discovered a $50 bill in her pocket. She giggle-dances just as I did when my youngest started preschool. How divine to laugh when all the world is yelling.  

At her house, I defend her as her husband jokes through Dave: “Is my wife good at driving or hopeless?” Her husband and Dave have learned to clarify what they’re saying to each other using Google Translate. We laugh. And the kids do, to, as they hear Mom drove. They’re in on the joke.   

How divine to laugh when all the world is yelling.

That’s part of our upside-down response, friends. 

Some of us will resist hatred and fear in front of state government representatives and with our congressmen and -women. Some of us will write letters, will march, will carry signs, will go there.

Some of us will drive around a school parking lot.

The lucky might get to do a little of everything. None of us can do it all. So, together we’ll do it all. Because we’re upside-down people. We can yell, but we know it’s divine to laugh.

{Part 2 of 2.}

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