The Door is Open

On the Friday evening, right after September 11, 2001, business owners all up and down Broadway were putting candles out in front of their stores. Other Upper Westside residents were putting them outside their apartment buildings, or on their windowsills, or in a makeshift alter on a random street corner. I remember walking up West End Avenue, amidst this sea of twinkling lights, and feeling at the same time both completely lost, and eternally grateful for the place I was walking towards.

Since it was Friday night at the UWS dojo, we had sparring class. We wrapped up our hands, stuck them into our old, faded boxing gloves, and punched and kicked each other for an hour while out on Broadway the candles burned their way down to tiny nubs.

This is not like that.

I would never claim that the inauguration of a new president, no matter how repugnant and scary he may be, is comparable to the thousands of lives lost to those two airplanes. But it is Friday. And once again, I feel the same combination of loss and gratitude.

Our instructor, Shuseki-Shihan William Oliver, passed away on a Saturday morning, November 20, 2004. That following Monday, we unlocked the dojo and sat there for hours while people came in and out to express their shock, their condolences, and their grief.  Some people just came in and sat there, like us, not quite sure why, just knowing that they were supposed to be in the dojo. To be honest, a lot of those few days afterwards are a blur to me, a product of shock and sleep deprivation, but I do remember thinking "Just open the dojo."

I guess at least one of us had a key.

This is not like that either. Nobody has died, suddenly, unexpectedly, in their sleep like the start of a bad mystery movie. Yet this morning I woke up with a heaviness in my chest and a deep weariness that has nothing to do with how much sleep I got last night.

I will admit that I did not pay much attention to politics over the past 8 years. I really only noticed the big stuff, the stories that flooded my friend's News Feeds, the jokes made on The Daily Show. (Where every person under the age of 45 gets their news.) My own ignorance only contributes to the feeling now that I missed something, that I didn't understand, that I didn't realize exactly what we had until it was gone.

President Barack Obama was not a perfect leader. But his very existence represents a belief that our country has been moving forward, that the things that make us human; our compassion, our intellect, our tolerance, our willingness to learn from each other, that these things are alive and well.

This afternoon we will swear in a man to the office of the President of the United States of America who said that he likes to simply grab women by the pussy. Among his brand new cabinet members are people who still believe that climate change is imaginary, those who want to get rid of public education, and those who do not respect a woman's right to choose what she does with her own body. And of course, that is only the tip of the iceberg.

After 8 years of eloquent speeches that represented hope and change and love, I now need to watch a man take the Oath of Office who is reminiscent of the boy who takes your lunch money in the schoolyard. A man who seems to be against everything that I am fighting to become.

Since November I have tried, and will continue to try, to remain optimistic. And in truth, the melancholy cloud I feel is more about what we are losing at noon today, than what we have to gain or lose over the next four years. The future of our country, of course, still remains to be seen.

But it is Friday. There are keys to a dojo in my backpack. Therefore, I will do what we always have done. I will unlock the door.

See you tonight.


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