The other day, romping through the living room, stuffed kitty under one arm, you stopped, raised your little chin like Nero, and declared: “I am the special one!” Floppy blond hair, brown eyes wide, a pint-sized superhero, minus the cape. The performance should have been funny. It was funny. Your dad and I laughed.
So, why do I feel tight in my chest? Why this dread? You always bring home words, songs and habits (good and bad) from school. And really, shouldn’t every six-year-old have the right to stand among loved ones and declare with the confidence of the chosen: “I am the special one!” Kids learn better soon enough.
But that’s not true, is it? Watching Judge Kavanaugh’s tantrums on television earlier this year I knew it wasn’t true. Not all kids learn better. There, on the television, I saw what happens when a privileged boy, like you, grows up believing he is the special one.
Such a boy grows into someone who views others as allies or obstacles to a success measured in money, power and popularity; a man who remains - at seventeen, twenty, forty, fifty - as deluded about his own relative worth as you, age six. A petulant man clinging to the lie that he earned advantages he was born into, and that people not born into the same advantages—or the same religion, ethnicity, nationality or gender - deserve less regard.
I don’t wish for you a life of such spiteful delusion. You are a special one, that’s true. You will always be my special one. But you are not the special one.
Don’t strive for glory, money, power, or prestige at the cost of other people. Don’t believe the myth of your own exceptionalism. Fulfillment, happiness, and spiritual wellbeing are not found on podiums, in expensive cars, boardrooms or universities. These gifts come when you love freely, listen well, and give of yourself. They are outgrowths of our common humanity which cannot be embraced if you hold yourself apart from, or above other people.
Now, I have been known to overthink, well, everything. I hear the voices of my peers who scoff, “Good God, Mary. He's only six. A special, my special, the special one. He doesn’t understand the difference.”
But you understand more than we give you credit for. At three you knew the difference between dozens of wooden train engines. At four you knew your letters and the sounds they made. Now you read tones of voice, expressions, postures. You know how to make me mad and to laugh. You correct me if I fudge a word in your favorite books. You know, because we have taught you, how to say “please” and “thank you.” You know it’s wrong to hit and lie and cheat though you may not understand why. And, conscious or not of the differences between articles, you did say “the” special one. Conscious or not, you may already have begun to internalize and integrate this lie in the way you see the world and your place within it.
That scares me. That’s why I’m writing. Not to diminish you or strip you of fantasy. I write to make you aware of the fantasy. Your worth does not depend on others being made less. Reject the notion that your race, religion, sexuality, or gender entitles you to anything more than a place with everyone else. Learn to accept help with grace and to serve others humbly and deliberately.
I slip into your room, now, to tuck you in, your face alive with dreams. What a beautiful thing, if, by the time you are old enough to read these words you no longer have need of them. This is my hope, one I will act upon to help you grow into a man of high purpose and empathy. For your own wellbeing, and for the good of others.