[After asking his nana for permission to talk to me]
I’m worried that I’ll never get to see my dad and he misses me and I miss him. And I miss nature, I miss everything.
Your nana’s over there, you don’t miss her, right?
No, she’s right over there, and my mom, and my auntie, except for my dad.
Are you guys in touch? [Shakes head.] Do you like to draw?
Maybe you could do some drawings and save them for him, I bet he’d like that.
I like to draw Minecraft. I make a comic book and I turn it into a comic book and all I do is make Minecraft, that’s all. Can I have a piece of paper? [I give him a piece of paper and he folds it.] Do you have a scissor or can you rip it? [He draws a line to show me where to rip, and unfolds a one-sheet booklet. He then goes and lugs his little cousin over to meet me and they draw together for a while on the backs of some of the alternate-history blanks, except he’s having a competition for how much paper he can cover and she’s not. I give him a marker, a clipboard, and the rest of the alternate-history blanks to take with him.]
I worked at Apeiron, I worked in Woonsocket. Life is so totally out of balance, so disconnected. We’re all implicated. It makes me so unutterably sad.
What do you do when you feel that sadness?
I try to put parts of my body on the grass and connect with Mother Earth … A lot will survive, but I think it might not be us. I try to breathe. I think about the bad things I do and how they contribute … I believe that everybody cares, given the opportunity to care.
I’ve been trying to think about what sadness might make possible.
Sadness leads to the desire for connection. Sadness informs reaching out. But I don’t share sadness often, because I want to make opportunities for people to perform their own responses, to facilitate a journey to authentic response.
When you see a sad eight-year-old, you may feel an impulse to reach out to him, to enfold him. If W could see T, small and matter-of-fact, willing to talk to a stranger provided he had permission from his family, her attention and her yearning might condense around him until he became the world. But W can’t provide what T, according to him, needs: she can’t bring his dad back to him. What she can offer he might not need–he has a mother, a nana, an auntie, cousins. And a sadness that seems as big as the world isn’t the same as the world–healing one is no substitute for healing the other, though it might feel like it.
W would like to see T live to grow up, and she adds, in her small ways, to the things that may make that more likely. She doesn’t just work with Apeiron’s programs in schools, she’s helped to insist on safe school sites; she stands with efforts to hold police accountable and develop community justice alternatives. She protests fare hikes and cuts to library services. Her fear is for T, and everyone his age, and for herself, and everyone her age, and for the grass–the whole, old world.
And what does T want? He misses his dad–he wants to know that he’ll see him someday, in a day that hasn’t come yet. He misses nature–maybe he’d like to lie on the grass, too, or smell a different set of smells. But he’s not going to get in a stranger’s car and drive out to a meadow or the woods. And he might not get to see his dad again.
So in this story, what W and T need, and thus what they have, is a place to be wholly lonely even in the midst of love, to touch the face of their helplessness. A time of day, a signal to send to a satellite that sends back to everyone who calls to it all the voices together, amplified and textured into a deep note. It’s not comforting, but it’s solid. T’s auntie lets him use her phone to call out and to listen back. And this –combined with the meeting of their bodily needs, combined with the equalizing of their relative safety–lets them rest a little, lets them work, lets them enjoy, lets them change what they do.