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On My Watch

January 19, 2017

 

‘Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.’

—        Oscar Wilde

 

 

Family, friends, and random strangers who have stumbled upon this blog,

 

I am humbled and grateful to be standing here before you, to know you, on this inauguration day. For the past eighty-four years, on the twentieth of January, eras have ended and others begun, promises been made by the leaders of a great nation of the world they would create.

 

Well, I am the leader of no great nation, in fact I am no leader at all, and there is no time or place in this world for the one I would like to create. But since we are contemplating building, leaving legacies, perhaps I could contemplate on my own, and make a list of the issues I can and pledge to fight for on my watch.

 

I will not address foreign policy, global markets, climate change. I will not talk of religion, terrorism, war crimes, humanitarian crises. Abortion; same sex marriage; the future of artificial intelligence and virtual reality; rising oil prices, depleting natural resources; new cures for cancer; new viruses, bacteria and vaccines; test tube babies and aging populations; obesity, famine and water droughts. Since when have people like me had answers to human suffering and agendas to save the world?

 

I cannot stop innocence and chivalry from dying, or Venice from sinking into the sea. Human lives being claimed by floods, earthquakes, bombs. Animal lives for fur, ivory, steak. Entire species of exotic flowers, plants, trees, from disappearing, cultural human heritage from destruction and decay. Whitman asked:

 

‘What good amid these, O me, O life?

 

Answer.

That you are here – '

 

I am here, and so is my first order of business on this inauguration day. I would like to address the issue of wildflowers going extinct:

 

Since the 1940s, 97% of wildflower meadows have been lost. Urbanization and intensive agriculture have cost us dozens of species of cornflowers, poppies, daisies. I grew up blowing wishes into dandelions, harvesting pixie dust from cyclamens, threading violets into crowns. Now there are fewer and fewer unploughed fields left in which they can grow.

 

So I pledge to fight for a field of wildflowers for my children to run and play in one day. To find a patch of land somewhere, however small, and let the flowers in it grow free.

 

I would like to address a number of other issues too, essential not to survival, but to life:

 

The fading craft of reading, writing. The endangered art of poetry. Playing the harp, cello, accordion, ukulele.  Talking to strangers on the bus. Writing letters and actually sending them in the mail. Holding hands, holding doors.

 

True emotions concealed by sarcasm and indifference. Dreams stifled by fear of judgment, failure, regret. Vanishing books, vinyls, polaroid photographs - who takes a genuine selfie these days? The rarity of any commodity or relationship meant to last a life. Time wasted, misinvested, lost. Time for an afternoon nap or walk.

 

I was raised on poems and stories and songs and hope in the triumph of good. Foolish as it is I pledge to keep hoping that all these poems, songs, stories are true. I pledge never to disprove fairytales, never say it cannot be done. I pledge to try to be good, do good, not let the world make me hard, nor the sadness make me hate.[1]

 

I pledge to invest real time and real emotions in people and causes dear to me. I pledge that I am here,

 

‘—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.’

 

Dreamers do not make promises; they make wishes no one hears. Perhaps they are wise in making the distinction between what they can and cannot change.

 

I will never be president. I will not change the world or history. But I can pledge to hope against hope, to dream out loud. To contribute a verse and not to let the wildflowers disappear. Not on my watch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Adapted from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse V: ‘Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.’

 

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