We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.
Mary Oliver, Evidence
I lay next to her on the couch, exhausted and out of patience from making endless laps around the living room coffee table in a half glide and half bounce walk, hoping to crack the code to putting an infant down to sleep. It didn’t work, and now, surrendering to her nap strike, we lay next to each other, both awake. I think most definitely I’ve reached 10,000 steps just in this room or, at the very least, have worked my glutes from all that half gliding. The curtains blow lazily, catching onto the arm of the couch, letting through dappled afternoon light across the upholstery. My open palm is an inch from her face as she uses all of her ten fingers to stretch my picky in one direction and my thumb in the other. Her eyes are crossed and lips pursed in an intense focus on this new skill. Head resting on my free arm, I tiredly hum the melody to “I’ll be Home for Christmas” despite it being early November. For some odd reason, sad Christmas songs and three specific tracks on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack are the only things that stop her fussing. The irony of the lyrics to this holiday tune, though, don’t escape me as I lazily hum something that’s between a fingers-crossed wish and a sort-of-prayer.
We’ve said a lot of sort-of-prayers lately, tiny little requests that seep between our fingers covering our mouths, stopping before the whole dream gets out. They are bashful whispers said to each other out on the balcony after our daughter sleeps for the night. Do you think it will happen? Will we finally get to leave? Afraid to say these secret things too loudly and ruin everything.
If you have been following this little corner of the internet for any amount of time, you will know that this weekend my family and I rejoiced. Four years ago, we were thrust into the choppy waters of uncertainty while the president chose to sign an executive order just days after his inauguration that would bar my husband, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law from living in the United States. The doors closed and the walls closed in too, as my husband’s precarious refugee status threatened to separate him from our baby and me at any point. We watched in horror as my home country became a place that no longer welcomed the world’s most vulnerable but instead proudly waved the flag of “me first” policies, shockingly backed by Evangelical Christians.
Tuesday on, my husband and I glued ourselves to the television and the smartphones in our hands despite the empty promises to ourselves to curb our media ingestion. In true 2020 fashion, I was sure Wednesday would bring more sad, hard news. But today, we exhale, realizing we’ve been holding our breaths for the last four years.
A quick phone call came from my teary mom in the U.S. on Saturday evening telling me “They’ve called it.” I repeated “They’ve called it” to my husband in the office, who repeats “They’ve called it” to his brother in Norway on video chat. We both end our calls, rush to the television, and break out the celebratory ice cream.
So many of us are breathing that collective sigh of relief right now. It’s been beautiful to see videos of people spontaneously dancing and singing in the streets. It’s special to read messages from refugees in Turkey who are feeling a surge of hope for the first time in four years. God has finally heard our cries, they write. There is hope my home country can be a place of safety for my family and opportunities for my daughter and all girls. We shout also for our friends and neighbors because so much of what happens in the U.S. inevitably flows to the rest of the world.
The president-elect is not a savior—although, perhaps, it’s easy to slide into that mentality. As believers, we don’t put all our hope in the leaders of our county. The kingdom of heaven has not yet reached its full expression. But we can celebrate and then hold the new administration, who promises to uphold immigrants, Black and brown folks, and marginalized communities, accountable for putting justice and humanity first.
Like the flicker of a cat’s tail, the leaves outside the window shake with the advent of winter. We shake too, for joy and grief. Nothing has changed with my husband’s immigration status, of course. We are still waiting, still living in limbo. He is still a refugee with no claim to a country. But that dread in the pit of our stomachs has eased a little.
I sing the words to “I’ll be Home for Christmas” to a nap-striking baby, whose now fully awake, babbling away on the couch. The song is a secret half-prayer that may or may not come true this year, but we can begin to dream a little more confidently about the next. So we look ahead. There are babies to be put down for naps, and dishes to wash, and congresspeople to write, and stories from the marginalized to hear and share.
So shake with joy today. But shake with grief, too, for there is much work to be done.
What we can do now to hold accountable the Biden administration: Amnesty International, a global movement that helps fight human rights abuses worldwide, has put together a list of priorities for the new administration. Familiarize yourself with their eleven different policy recommendations, especially asylum access, persecuted populations, and U.S. killings of Black people, as these are great talking points when contacting congresspeople. There’s a free pdf as well with additional resources.