A Love Letter to President Trump
March 2, 2017 / By Stephen at Parallax
Susan McQuaid is an elementary school teacher and librarian from Amherst, MA. Her letter is about finding common ground in our desire to keep our children safe.
Dear President Trump,
This is my love letter to you.
A friend told me recently that when she heard Thich Nhat Hanh speak in Boston in 2002, he answered a question from a worried and broken-hearted audience member. How was one to respond to George Bush’s decision to launch military operations in Afghanistan after the attack on the World Trade Towers? What was a person to do who considered Bush’s decision to be immoral?
“Write President Bush a love letter,” Thich Nhat Hanh responded.
That response knocked me for a loop. Thich Nhat Hanh is a revered Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has survived persecution, war, and exile. So I figured that I should give this love letter idea a try. I don’t have any better ideas for my own broken-heartedness.
I am a teacher in an elementary school, and recently my principal assigned me to lunch duty. I was not happy––I, like many teachers I know, am terrified of school lunchrooms. All bets are off in school cafeterias. But a new system to encourage a modicum of civility is in place at our school. A small stack of colored plastic cups sits at the center of each table: red cup on the bottom, then yellow, and green on the top. As the noise level rises, the adults move among the tables, placing the yellow cup on top as a warning or the red cup on top if things have gone too far. A quick scan of the colors throughout the cafeteria is a good barometer of the noise and anxiety level among the students.
The other day, I slipped into an empty seat at a lunch table of third grade girls. Rabia turned to me and asked, “Is it true that Trump hates Muslims?”
I have known Rabia since she was tiny. She looks at me silently, her black hair held back by two plastic blue barrettes, her braces taking up too much room in her small mouth. She will begin wearing the hijab in the not too distant future. I am caught off guard and stall for time.
“Who told you that, Rabia?” I ask.
“Everyone is saying it,” she says, her voice rising, gesturing towards the cafeteria around her. “They are saying that I am going to have to move away.”
Lots of thoughts race through my mind. Does Rabia know what a “terrorist” is? She is just a little girl, and her family has done a bang-up job of protecting her childhood as long as is humanly possible in our culture. She is dressed conservatively. She returns books to the library that she considers to contain “swear words.” What would her parents want me to say to her?
“Have you talked to your parents about this?” I ask. She shakes her head no. “Why don’t you ask them about it when you get home, OK?” I suggest. She looks away. “But Rabia,” I continue, “I promise you. No one is going to make you move away. All of the adults here at school and at home are going to keep you safe.” She turns back to her friends. The conversation is over in an instant.
I am amazed at how quickly I lied to her. We elementary school teachers have become expert liars. Before going into our “shelter in place” and “lockdown” drills every year, we assure our students that they are safe, that the adults are in charge. But how in the world can we possibly promise that we can keep them safe? I have practiced the patter, however, and it comes out effortlessly.
Later that week, in that same cafeteria, our school celebrated Martin Luther King Day with an assembly. At our school, MLK Day is like a holy day. Our families come from 18 countries and many of them struggled long and hard to get here. The students get excited about Martin Luther King Day because all kids are passionate about fairness. So they sang their hearts out about how we “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around” from standing up for what is right, even when we are afraid.
I am so envious of my students. Growing up in my own elementary school, everyone looked like me. But my students get to grow up with each other and know each other as individuals, not just as Muslims or recent immigrants from Mexico or refugees from Syria. They are helping each other learn English. They are not afraid of their differences; they are curious about them.
I am convinced, President Trump, that you love your children and grandchildren, too, and that you want them to be safe. I think this may be why you want to build walls and close borders. We all love our families, we all love our children. It seems that we have different strategies, however, for protecting them.
Please come to our school for a visit, President Trump, to learn a different strategy for keeping our children safe. Don’t worry that you would not be welcome because we are in a “blue” state. If I’ve learned anything from my students, it is that they are remarkably forgiving. They would be more than happy to talk to you about how we welcome strangers at our school, how we celebrate what’s best about our country. They know better than anyone that, as Martin Luther King said, “Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
There is not a lot of time to waste. It’s not just Rabia who is scared. Cups are flipping from green to yellow to red in school cafeterias all around the country. The noise and the anxiety level are rising all over the world. Any chance you’re free next month? We could put together a great assembly for you.