The Teddy Bear Incident: A Political Philosophy Lesson from Kindergarten
Crossposted on Tikkun Daily and on Daily Kos. by Lauren Reichelt In the months before my mother suffered her first obvious psychotic break and my family shattered like glass, I woke up in the middle of the night and realized that my brother, sisters and I had been left alone. At six, I was the oldest. My siblings were four, three and one. It was the first time I was called to political action. It was the moment I realized something in our home was terribly, irretrievably wrong. Mom and Dad had left us in the care of my mother's bi-polar friend, Marie, and gone out for a night on the town. After putting us to bed, Marie disappeared, apparently convinced that her job as baby-sitter was complete. I don't remember what woke me up. Maybe it was a thunderstorm. Maybe one of my younger siblings needed the potty. Maybe I had a bad dream. I searched the house for an adult and realized nobody was home. So I took action. First, I assured everyone that Mommy and Daddy would be home soon. Then I organized my younger brothers and sisters to turn on every light in the house, gather all their stuffed animals, teddy bears and blankets, and meet in the kitchen. We waited together until my parents arrived. I can't prove there was any value to our toddler kitchen meet-up. We were no better suited to fend off the ravages of lightning, burglars or trolls in the kitchen. But we felt safer together surrounded by our toys and at least I would not have to run through the house rounding up babies in the event of evacuation. Plus, we could see trolls and burglars from where we sat. This event has shaped my political philosophy. I believe that groups are better positioned to act in concert if they feel their actions will result in positive change. Groups of individuals with hope can effect change. Groups who are demoralized descend into chaos, destructive self-preservation, and scapegoatery. I have always tried to keep my diaries positive, pointing out potential solutions to problems, for this reason. But what happens in the event of the unthinkable? Is there a way for a family of toddlers to remain positive as their mother descends into psychosis? Can progressives create a movement capable of rescuing our nation from violent fascism in the midst of a Constitutional crises? I believe we can. We can and we must. Because the alternative is unthinkable. A few weeks ago, my sixteen year old daughter and I were discussing God in the car on our way home. She told me she could not believe in God because all the suffering in the world seems to offer proof that He might not exist. A perfectly valid point of view. I told her that I don't believe in God because I know He or She is there. There is no reason at all God has to exist. There is at least a 50% chance that S/He doesn't. I believe in God because S/He should exist. I am going to behave as if we live in a just world because that is the world I want. When we choose to uphold moral laws in the absence of physical evidence of divine in the world, we become co-creators of the world with God. We may even become facilitators of God's physical existence. This is the meaning of the dawn after the "Dark Night of the Soul" in the writings of St. John of the Cross. And it is the meaning of Moses de Leon's alternative translation of the first line of the Bible in his twelfth century text, the Zohar: "With Beginning, --- created God." "---" is the Unnameable One, the Divine within. When we choose to be just in God's apparent absence, we are creating God in the otherwise corrupt physical world. So how do we work ourselves out of a Constitutional Crisis that is perhaps as serious as anything America has experienced since the years immediately preceeding the Civil War? Our Supreme Court has no regard for the Constitution or legal precedent. Our political leaders are unable to act. Our Senate cannot pass law. Americans appear poised to vote for anything so long as it is not what we have. What do we do? Do we select a minority to punish, find someone to bomb, and suspend all laws that enable a government by the people, of the people, and for the people? Or do we demand as a nation that our leaders solve problems? The people of Argentina were able to wrest control of their government from moneyed interests by marching en masse through the streets banging pots and pans. I say, we gather our teddy bears, stuffed animals and blankets, turn on all the lights and meet in the kitchen. If we don't descend into fear, but instead justly demand Presence from God as one voice, God will become manifest in our world. For more pieces like this, sign up for Tikkun Daily's email digest or visit us online.