This year, I finished writing my second novel. It is a book I am totally in love with, but unfortunately COVID-19 has required me to postpone the already long process of publication. In the meantime, I wait patiently—like so many of us—to get to the other side of this.
The story is about an impressionist painter whose daughter disappears at the 1900 World Fair in Paris. In the years that follow, he fills the space left by her loss with eccentric acts of philanthropy—creating a menagerie for animals wounded in the collateral fire of the first world war, letting war orphans crash on his estate, using fashion shows to smuggle Jews to Brazil. Then at the end of the second world war he is suddenly told that his daughter—who inspired all these insane acts—has been alive the whole time in London.
Writing this book naturally required quite a bit of research about the world wars. Aside from their history being engrossing and fascinating, I repeatedly found myself shocked at how many men and women died so that one day a boy like myself could live comfortably. It sounds cliché, but after enough real faces are added to a story it becomes obvious why some truths are spoken so often that they become clichés.
Over time, I started to feel a debt to these men and women that bordered on guilt. At some point, though, it occurred to me that there was so much I could do to build a world that syncs with my values—and also doesn’t require me to get shot at or blown up. So ever since I finished writing, I’ve slowly been fumbling to find my own way to do my part.
Surely at this moment every one of us sees some place where they wished the world was more in line with what they care about most deeply. This truth is more poignant than ever as we head into this election. So I share all of this to invite you to find your own way to contribute to the moment. It could be anything: volunteering to be a poll worker, making calls, sending texts, providing food to folks waiting in long lines. In this final week, it hardly takes any digging to find a way to help. Some of these things might sound like a lot of work, or even fall outside of your comfort zone. And this is true. But they also don’t require you to get shot or blown up.
So consider this a challenge.
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