Why you should care
Because unconditional love for one isn’t unconditional at all.
Rachel Howard lives in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, ZYZZYVA and NewYorker.com.
So many people are asking: How could any caring, compassionate person support Donald Trump? For me, that question is embodied in the foster mother who saved my 8-year-old daughter.
Auntie, as she is known by the dozens of girls she has saved, lives in the remote, golden plains of Redding, California. She began taking in girls in her early 20s because her mother had cared for foster kids and because, as she explained to me and my husband, “other people can’t be bothered.” Auntie took in the girl who became my daughter after she was removed from her birth mom and bounced among three chaotic foster homes, after my daughter turned violent from the chaos she’d endured, after my daughter nearly landed in a group home and on a path to certain devastation.
My husband and I met Auntie last November. We had come to meet the girl the social workers had told us about, the girl we wanted to offer a “forever home” to. We drove three hours to visit Auntie and “her gang” at a place called Neighborhood Church, which rose from a mile-wide parking lot like a supersize Wal-Mart. Our Prius glided in among the SUVs. “Please don’t let that red Durango with the NRA sticker be Auntie’s car,” my husband said. It was.
Auntie was tall, with feathery blond hair, a tiny waist and unmistakable breast implants. After the sing-along and a Power Point-enabled sermon on sexual abstinence, we took the girls to the park, and then Auntie invited us back to her house. She asked if we’d distract the girls for 15 minutes when we got there so she could clean up the guns she and her grown son had been “goofing off” with the night before.
She is a woman with a huge capacity to love — but only those she chooses to be part of her tribe.
At Auntie’s house, my future daughter roller-skated up and down the patio like a maniac. She crashed, began to sob and held up a brass bullet casing, saying, “I hate it when I fall on these.”
But my husband and I decided not to report Auntie for leaving guns where the girls could have gotten them. We could see, in the way she hugged them and called them “Baby,” that hers was an unconditional love. In fact, over the next month of visits to our future daughter, we came to practically revere Auntie. She spoke to the girls in a tone of firm and steady caring that we could only hope to emulate. She lavished them with Christmas presents that must have cost far more than the compensation she received for the girls’ care. Months after our daughter joined our family, we continued to send Auntie cards and flowers. She texted us messages of encouragement. We responded that she was an angel, and we meant it.
As the presidential campaigns picked up steam, we listened as Donald Trump called for a registry of Muslims and dismantling Obamacare. I wrote in my journal about how strange it was to witness a rising tide of national hatred while doing something as hopeful as adopting a child. And my heart ached for Auntie, who confided in us that her husband had cheated and left her. She had a new boyfriend she wouldn’t kiss because he wasn’t Christian. Auntie said that no one talked to her at the megachurch, but she refused to consider other congregations because they weren’t “Bible-based.”
Auntie invited our daughter to visit for the Fourth of July weekend, driving two hours to pick her up and returning to Redding with our daughter and the other foster girls. They listened to Rush Limbaugh declare that Trump would make America great. He would make everyone rich.
Our daughter has beautiful brown skin. All we know of her father is that he was Mexican-American. We taught her the word Latina, and she embraced it. At just 8 years old, she hears people talking about “the wall,” and we have to explain she’s an American citizen and can’t be “sent back” by Trump.
Before the election, Auntie had asked if I’d bring my daughter to visit in November. But after November 8, I can’t bring myself to do it. Visiting already felt dangerous before, when my husband and I walked a thin line, withholding comment during church sermons that insinuated Obama was the modern-day equivalent of Christ’s Roman oppressors. We pretended that shooting semi-automatic weapons was a harmless pastime. We told ourselves the self-censorship was warranted because it helped preserve our relationship with Auntie. That we were united in our devotion to this girl.
Occasionally, Auntie would say she needed a break from foster care; she was worn down. But every time the foster agency called about a girl in need, her heart would break. The last time I talked to Auntie, a month ago, I learned she had taken in a new girl. She is a woman with a huge capacity to love — but only those she chooses to be part of her tribe.
The great irony is that our daughter, who at age 5 decided she believed in God, was permanently placed with me and my husband because we attend church — although our church is not one Auntie would recognize as legitimate. Once, as Auntie listened, my daughter told me she’d learned a Hanukkah song at school. She then said, “Auntie told me Jews don’t believe in God, but I don’t think that’s true.” My daughter isn’t one for self-censorship.
We who do not support Trump are told we must not withdraw further — that we must engage. I used to subscribe to the beatitude that proclaims: “Blessed are the meek.” Now, if I am to engage with the Aunties of the world, I remember that Jesus also said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” How do we who reject tribalism, who know in our hearts that if you do not care for all, you care, in truth, for none — how can we thirst for righteousness as Trump and his tribe seek to shatter the rights of so many?