The Big Idea: J. R. Dawson
Home is where the heart is. Author J. R. Dawson is going through some big changes, and shares in their Big Idea how the new novel, The First Bright Thing, ties in to what they (and perhaps you) is going through.
J. R. DAWSON:
A Spark is a very big idea in a very small way.
A lot of Judaism is like that; little things will change the bigger things. Or maybe, the bigger things are the little things. There is holiness in a good cup of coffee. There is beauty in a simple sunrise at 6:00 A.M. that happens every single day, earlier than we’d like. Holding a door open, encouraging a friend to keep creating art, teaching a kid how to play Heart and Soul, cultivating the perfect playlist on your Spotify. These are all acts of light that can shape our broken world.
There is so much light in my house.
It’s one reason we moved in here. The bay window and how it makes rainbows over our pictures in the front room. The kitchen and how it shines in the morning when I’m feeding the dogs and making breakfast, the dawn coming up over the hill. We live in a city park, which means that beyond our fence is a green grass field full of foxes, bunnies, turkeys … there are kids playing in our mulberry tree and starting a pick-up baseball game in the clearing. There is kindness here.
But I am so angry. No, I am hopeless. And scared.
No, I am angry. And hopeless. And scared.
We have to move.
I am currently three months away from having to leave the state where I was born, where I grew up, where I got married, where I raised my three dogs … where I wrote my first book … to find a state that has protection laws for my family. Nebraska, my home, is no longer safe. And I sit in a house that won’t be mine by winter. We have had our last Hannukah here. We have built our last sukkah in the backyard. The Shabbats are numbered. I painted my writing room walls with all my favorite flowers surrounding a Tolkien quote. “Where there’s life, there’s hope.”
But that is going to be painted over soon, probably, by hands I’ll never know.
My tired, little spark isn’t enough. I couldn’t save us. No matter how loud I screamed, no matter how much I wrote, no matter how much I loved … all the years I spent here loving a community, wanting this to be our home …
When everything looks like it’s never going to get better and there’s no reason but chaotic chance for anything, how the hell do we move forward? We sit here staring down a tunnel at climate change, uncertain elections, horrifying legislation, the barrage of domestic terrorism and God-knows-what-else to come. Every day for so many years it has felt like the world is so big and we are so small.
So what the hell do we do? How do we get up in the morning and keep tending to a home that we know will soon lock us out?
Well, Judaism tells me that it is a mitzvah to “repair the world.” There’s the old belief of these sparks, literal divine shards that have fallen to Earth and gotten stuck in everything and everyone. They’re buried deep, somewhere out of sight, and they are very hard to find. It’s our job to help find them. To release them. To cultivate them. And bring the light of the spark back to the world.
The tagline of my book is, “If you knew how dark tomorrow would be, what would you do with today?”
My answer is always, “Keep writing.”
It’s why I wrote this book. It’s why I still type things while my spouse is in the front room taking our pictures down.
So I wrote this story about a woman who is trying to repair the world with her art, with her friends’ art. And my little mitzvah in this mess was finishing The First Bright Thing and flinging it out into the world to see if maybe someone else would find something in it to help them. It’s just one book, it’s just one story. But it still exists, it’s still here.
Just like I am one little person. But I am still here.
And where there’s life, there’s hope.
That’s all I can be certain of. Even if those words are painted over on my wall after I leave, they once were there. I saw them, day in and day out during the pandemic.
We are all still looking down a tunnel into who knows what. But even if we aren’t here someday, we are here now.
I am so angry. I am so very scared. But I am still here. And so are you. We have our own sparks, and together, our light can’t be blown out.
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