6 May 2051
It is hard to believe how quickly the years have passed. I am 75 years old, and I hope I have a few years left: your grandfather and great-grandfather both made it past ninety. But I have to admit to myself that I am moving into the final act of my life.
You are now the age I was when you were born, and you are about to give birth to your own child. I hope you know how much I love you. I hope you know that I admire the person you are, the choices you make every day as you live your life. I am amazed by your kindness, by your spirit, by your intelligence and strength, by your energy. And I cherish both the memories of the time we shared as you were growing and the time we spend together now. I am so grateful for our relationship as adults, and how you have pushed me to do better and be a better person throughout your life.
My 75th birthday and the coming birth have got me thinking about what I have been able to give you and what I have not. And they’ve got me thinking about the state of the world I am leaving to you and your child. It is not everything I wanted you to have, but it is more than you might have had. And that is something.
When I reflect on your childhood, I remember worrying about the world I would be leaving to you. The frayed social relationships in our country connected to the fractures of race, the huge amounts of inequality and poverty, and the resulting political divisions. The frayed relationships between nations around the world which seemed to exacerbate all our societal ills. The deteriorating state of our planet and its climate — and how that deterioration would inevitably affect the poor, people of color, the people of the global south most of all, but how that deterioration would inevitably also affect you, and your children if you chose to have them.
I did some work around the edges, advocating policies that would address climate change, inequality, racism. I contributed my small part to some of the larger social movements that were slowly pushing the boundaries of what people believed. It felt so tiny. I, like many others, worried that it wouldn’t be enough, especially given the dire warnings of climate disaster if we didn’t do something immediately.
It is hard to pin down a moment when something shifted. Probably there were many such moments, small shifts that were difficult to see at the time. Maybe it was the COVID pandemic that happened when you were 7 or 8. Maybe it was the nationwide labor strike a year later, the superhurricane that hit Washington, DC a few years after that, or the racial solidarity movement later that decade. But between all of those moments, something changed in how we saw each other as a society. Less competitor or enemy, more ally or accomplice. Maybe even family sometimes.
Of course, not everyone felt that way. The pushback from the wealthy and their apologists was heavy. The mass arrests, the counter demonstrations fueled by white resentment, the widespread layoffs. When I lost my job and couldn’t find work when you were in your early teens, that was a difficult time for us. And we were luckier than many.
But the movements produced victories in the end… laws outlawing carbon pollution, drastically scaling back police forces and prisons, finally creating universal healthcare, implementing minimum and maximum wages, among others. The relationships we had started to shift as a nation allowed for some real change.
Of course, you know that life is far from perfect now. We waited too long to address the changing climate and we faced consequences through the flooding of our coastlines, the superstorms every year now, and the loss of so much of our natural diversity. We still have our rich and our poor, and too many people still harbor racist beliefs that should have died out decades ago. But it could have been so much worse. It was so much worse.
I know you don’t want to hear me talking about dying, and I don’t want to think about it. But I can accept that my time is coming, hopefully later and not sooner. And whenever it comes, I can face it with gratitude that we have set you on a firmer foundation. Nothing is a given. Events can and will turn in ways that we cannot predict. But I can face my mortality believing we have given you, the baby, and all of our children and descendants your own decent chance. That is really the best I could have wished for. That is what I did my own small part to fight for.
I look forward to meeting the baby soon, and to seeing you as well.
I will always be, with love,
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