My four-year-old enthusiastically agreed to another term of gymnastics with the parks and rec department. He’s not particularly athletic, but he enjoys climbing over obstacles, hanging from bars, and tumbling on mats, so we signed him up.
Nonetheless, one Saturday morning he was lying on his bedroom floor in a pile of clothes, crying and screaming because he didn’t want to go to gymnastics.
“There is no such thing as gymnastics!” he shouted. “I want to stay home forever!”
He’s been speaking in this way for several weeks, now. Normally I’d chalk it up to a preschooler’s creative logic. But these aren’t normal times. His absolute rejection of reality and his stated desire to accomplish absurdities remind me too much of the insane rhetoric of a certain world leader and many of the voters who are trying to justify their support of him.
Sure, that’s a little dramatic; if anything, it says more about the leader and his supporters than it does about the preschooler. It probably says something about me, too, like that I hold my children to unreasonably high standards of coherence and rationality.
My world leaders, too, apparently.
Many of my friends have been at pains to figure out how to confront this postmodern presidency with its alternative facts, its smoke and mirrors, its hijacking of (an admittedly broken) identity politics, its strange alliance with many Christians, and its construction of an alternative reading of American history that appears to abandon ethics in the name of power.
I don’t know what to tell these friends. I know we need people in the press and at all levels of citizenship and government who will insist upon regular facts, transparency, and reason, but it does feel like history, reality, and reason are breaking down as common meeting grounds for discourse and self-government.
We’re about to see if the United States Constitution is strong enough to withstand the rise of an autocrat, a would-be dictator. And we’re about to see if the people of the United States are capable of overcoming their differences in the name of our common history, values, freedoms, and rights.
I do not believe it will happen, primarily, through reason—though it will not happen without reason. I believe it will happen in a similar manner to how I got my preschooler out the door that Saturday morning.
The hardest part was beginning. I was concerned we would be late, and I hate being late. But I set that concern aside. I set aside my own indignation at his disobedience. I set aside my frustration that we’d had similar fights several times a day for the whole week.
I got down beside him and gave him a hug. I adopted as calm and warm a tone as I could and said, “It’s nice just poking about the house in the morning, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he moaned through his tears.
“Yeah,” I said. “Sometimes I don’t want to go anywhere in the morning, either. But when we do go out, we usually have fun, don’t we?”
He sidestepped this obviously loaded question and reiterated his desire to stay home.“Look, it’s nice to stay home and cuddle and play, but right now we have to go to gymnastics. We signed you up and paid for it, and you said you wanted to do it, so we’re going to do it. We can still cuddle and play more when we get home later.”
There was probably more to it than that, including a certain amount of silliness to distract him, and a lot of hugging. He eventually walked out the door with me, willingly.
What I hope this little episode shows is how powerful, if subtle, are the workings of love.
Yes, love, that most abused and misused word. That funny little idea—no, force—that has changed the world time and again. The power that changed the course of cosmic history once and for all.
Love, I believe, is our best hope in the face of the irrational, just as it was the constant hope and center of so many in the civil rights movement.
There are some problems with love, of course. It’s not so spectacular and satisfying as a “F—- Trump!” sign, nor does it make you feel vindicated and right like seeing a white nationalist punched in the face, but neither does it perpetuate the cycle of aggression and violence that has typified public discourse for too long. It “does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking… It does not delight in evil, but rejoices in good” 1 Corinthians 13:5-6.
Love transforms time and place. It takes a father’s insistence on obedience and turns it into nurturing guidance of his child through conflicting desires. It allows a child to unburden his anxieties into his loving father’s arms.
I write this as a testimony of faith, something I do believe, but also something I need to believe.
Ideally, my illustration would have involved a conversation between myself and my working-class father, or my Libertarian friends in the South. Ideally, I would be able to point to a moment of real connection where we both put aside our entrenched differences and said our relationship was more important, and on the basis of that love we would try to restore order in our common lives.
Ideally. But I’m still gathering my courage for such conversations. I’ve made forays on Facebook because I’m foolish enough to keep trying to have productive disagreements on Facebook.
The real battles, I expect, will be person-to-person, and they will surprise us both with what we learn about one another.
And no one will walk away feeling like they’ve “won” or “were right.” Love is not proud, it does not boast.
Love never fails.
Brad Fruhauff is a film buff, comics nerd, literature scholar, editor, and writer living in Evanston, Illinois. He is Senior Editor at Relief: A Christian Literary Review and a Writing and Communications Specialist at Trinity International University where he also serves as Contributing Editor for Sapientia. He has published poems, essays, and reviews in Books & Culture, catapult, Christianity and Literature, Englewood Review of Books, Every Day Poems, Not Yet Christmas: An Advent Reader, Rock & Sling, and in the newly released How to Write a Poem.