#Shelter: An Invitation

Thursday, November 10, 2016 - 5:30 am

#Shelter: An Invitation

A letter to all my friends:

Please message me. Please message me if you’re an immigrant, LGBT, Muslim, or Jewish. Message me if you’re Mexican-American, African-American, or Asian. If you come from Southeast Asia please message me. If you’re Pakistani, Jamaican, Dominican, Colombian, Puerto Rican, French, Russian, Serbian, or Brazilian.

If you’re a woman and you’re scared about what America has always been, has become, or is becoming, please reach out. If you’re a man and you’re scared, please reach out. If you fall somewhere in between, the offer still stands. If you have children and you’re worried about sending them off to school please let me know.

And if you’re poor and white and feel the country and the system has screwed you over (because it has); if you’re scared and lonely and feel alone and vulnerable; if you feel this country, this whole system, hasn’t served you, hasn’t honored its trust with you, my door is open.

If you voted for Trump, don’t unfriend me on Facebook. I don’t want that. Message me instead. Come over instead.

I will cook. I will clean. I’ll even help you do your laundry. We will talk. We’ll laugh. You can relax here. You are safe here. You won’t be judged. You can be you. I don’t know how else to say it, but this isn’t a house of hatred.

A few words about the house rules.

This house is a family home. It’s modest. I live here with my three children and my girlfriend. They are curious, brilliant, funny human beings. I moved here after a bitter divorce a couple of years ago. I’ve not been here long. But from the moment I stepped through the door (with boxes and bins and bags and a fair dose of hopelessness) I knew that I wanted this house to be a place that sheltered me and my children.

I wanted shelter, in a broad sense. A home that was warm and well-lit and safe. But it was empty when I moved in, and so as exhausted and world-weary and fight-weary as I was, I knew that if I wanted my children to have shelter we would have to build it together.

There are rules, of course. No words are off-limits. The children have free run of the English language (and any other), even its more colorful bits. But they can’t use those words to hurt each other or anyone else, and they have to remember that out in the rest of the world other people might not understand our relationship with language.

Another rule is that we all work. My work and their work is different of course. I write and teach and cook and clean and do the laundry and love and protect them. Their work is to learn, to play, to invent, to pick up after themselves, and to help. And as long as we all do our work we get to read and wrestle and draw and live. This is how we have built our shelter.

Every morning before we head out the door we recite a creed. We all take turns leading it. It goes something like this:

“I am brave. I am smart. I am strong. I am funny. I respect all of Creation. I respect myself. And my job is to help other people.” (Though the children have amended this to include the cat and a mouse who also live with us.)

The same rules apply to everyone who walks through my door.

It might do to add a few words about the family you will be visiting.

My mother is American Indian — and we are Ojibwe from the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota. My father, who passed away in January at the age of 90, was an Austrian Jew. He survived the Holocaust by finding refuge in America after a long, harrowing journey. Most of his family, our family, wasn’t so lucky: they died at Mauthausen and Dachau.

My father loved America for the simple reason that it saved his life. He loved it so much he wouldn’t let it fail, he wouldn’t let it be the worst version of itself. And so he spent his life fighting for justice and equal rights and Indian rights. He fought Joe McCarthy and he fought the worst expressions of capitalism.

He could have been angry. He could have seethed. He could have been a hater. But he wasn’t. He was principled and caring. In that way he tried to raise us and shelter us. And in that I way I try to raise my children.

This is how my home works. And this is how I want our country to work, too. So I don’t want people who supported Trump to unfriend me, and I won’t unfriend you.

I want you to come over for dinner. I mean it. If you’re poor and white and struggling and voted for Trump… when he lets you down, I will be here and I’ll try to help you. This shelter is for you, too. The election was only settled yesterday, and I’m trying to get my head around it.

Once I do I will pick a day each month and put out the call. Come over. Eat. Relax. No one will be judged. No one will be hated. My door is open and I’ll provide shelter.

Share Post

Contributor

is an Objibwe writer, translator, and professor at the University of Southern California. His books include the novels Little, The Hiawatha, The Translation of Dr Appelles, Prudence, and a book of criticism, Native American Fiction: A User’s Manual. He divides his time between his home on Leech Lake Reservation and Minneapolis.

Share Your Reflection

Reflections