Where is the hope in this fractious nation of ours?
How do we get past anger around difference to better connection, to help all of us move through our shared suffering, together—to understanding, awareness, and even love?
On Monday November 14 Janet and I and our daughter Katie will be onstage at the Soho Playhouse, talking about my novel At the Heart of the Universe. It is the story of coming together over tremendous differences—of race, class, country, and—for me as male—gender. It is based on Janet Surrey and I adopting a four-month-old baby girl from China in 1992, when China first opened up (it closed last year). For us, white-privileged, this was a cross-racial, cross-cultural act. As a man, it was also cross-gender—I was in the dominant position in at least three ways. A few of the many eye-opening events:
–after several weeks of gazing intensely into our baby’s eyes, when we went out and saw “white” babies, we were startled to find that those babies looked “strange”. It was a wake-up call to our now living with real “difference.”
–in public, we were horrified to see racism disguised in casual questions, random people saying in supermarket lines or on playgrounds, “How much did you pay for her?” or “She will be really good at math.” And once, in front of Janet, “You can’t be her mother!”
–as she grew, we saw her targeted for racial insults: boys on a playground would pull their eyes up in slits to mimic hers; she often felt isolated, at one point crying: “I’m outsidered!”
–on Parents’ Day in 5th grade in her “Draw Your family” picture, while the faces of her stick figures of me and Janet were white, her own stick figure’s face was dark brown. To us this was a stunning moment—a peek into her basic view of herself, and us—and a hint of what we all might be in for.
Our understanding expanded, and shifted. It was transforming. Even after studying and reading all we could, our parenting journey took us a new distance that had been unimaginable.
The novel describes that journey, to love.