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“The Nightmare Before Christmas”

Mary M. Doyle Roche

I have written previous forum pieces on dreams: the American dream, dreams deferred, and dreams denied. Now I find myself needing to write about nightmares (thank you Tim Burton for the title); about the very real fears and vulnerabilities exacerbated in the wake of the presidential election in the United States. The drama continues to unfold.

I live in what is referred to as a “blue state.” That is to say, my state tends to vote for Democratic candidates. On November 9th, I found myself in the company of many people who were dismayed at the election results, to the point of not wanting to get out of bed in the morning (or even later in the day). Students on my campus were visibly shaken. A flurry of emails pointed me to websites and articles advising parents about how to talk with their children and teachers with their students. I had been telling my adolescent children throughout the ugly campaign that, no matter what the outcome, the sun would rise and set and we would vote again in a few years. This was my privilege talking. “Everything will be OK.” I did not have to answer questions about whether we would be separated or deported. I did not have to answer questions about whether it would be safe to go out, to go to school, to go to our place of worship. I had it easy. My children could still hope and dream, once the grieving the passed.

Many parents and teachers had to face these and other questions as reports of hate crimes, harassment, and incivility went on an uptick. Advocates for immigrants fear that an important program protecting children and young people will be rescinded under the new administration. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) has allowed students brought into the country as children, called “Dreamers,” to attend college without immediate threat of deportation and separation from their families. Over 300 (as of this writing) college and university presidents signed an open letter to the president-elect,

DACA beneficiaries on our campuses have been exemplary student scholars and student leaders, working across campus and in the community. With DACA, our students and alumni have been able to pursue opportunities in business, education, high tech, and the non-profit sector; they have gone to medical school, law school, and graduate schools in numerous disciplines. They are actively contributing to their local communities and economies.

To our country’s leaders we say that DACA should be upheld, continued, and expanded. We are prepared to meet with you to present our case. This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity. America needs talent – and these students, who have been raised and educated in the United States, are already part of our national community. They represent what is best about America, and as scholars and leaders they are essential to the future.

Conversations are springing up at Catholic colleges and universities as well as in the Ivy League schools and decisions already made about our institutions of higher education to join the sanctuary movement in order to stand in solidarity with the Dreamers in our midst.

It is Advent. We are waiting. Images of a young family far from home, without a place to stay, and then in flight from a tyrant come to us, an annual gift to remember the vulnerability surrounding the breadth and depth and heights of the incarnation and to challenge complacency in the face of threats to children and young (and not-so-young) families everywhere.

I am reminded of another tale that is part of our seasonal storytelling of a seemingly friendless man caught in a nightmare and awakened to a dream. In the week after the election, I was visited by three spirits. I fervently pray they will keep me from the hard-heartedness that plagued Ebenezer Scrooge: I listened to Janet Mock, a transwoman of color, author, and television journalist as she encouraged all of our students, especially our LGBTQIA students, to be and become their authentic selves because their voices are needed now more than ever. I attended a standing room only lecture by Miguel de le Torre, a professor of Social Ethics at Iliff School of Theology, who provocatively asked us to move into Christian “hopelessness.” I felt myself resistant, but intrigued by the notion that when we have nothing left to lose, we are freed for radical action toward justice. Finally and over cups of hot chocolate, a friend reminded me that even as we are waiting for light in the midst of darkness, there is mercy and rejoicing in the love of God who comes to ease our misery and in our doing likewise with one another.

May we hold the Christ light for one another in the nighttime of our fear but not in any saccharine way; these are no sugarplums. Rather let us tap into our deepest dreams for peace and muster the courage needed to pursue them through today’s and tomorrow’s dark days and nights.