by Emily Nehus
Today started a little late, because I set my alarm for 6 PM. This happens every so often, but today I compounded it by rushing through the making of pancakes. Never, never rush the making of pancakes. I burnt the cast iron griddle, and the stainless steel frying pan, and finally managed to cook my son’s breakfast on the cast iron skillet. It was that kind of morning.
Dashing out an hour later, I grabbed my new favorite hat, crammed it on my head, and bolted for the bus. Our beautiful Habitat house sits on the edge of one of the poorest neighborhoods in town. I ride the bus regularly, and my violin case and Habitat garb make for easy conversation. I know the retired taxi driver who remembers infinite trivia about Bloomington’s classical musicians, gleaned from years of ferrying Josef Gingold to and from IU’s Jacobs School of Music. I know the silent gentleman who picks up every tiny scrap of trash surrounding our bus stop, filling a bag to recycle when he gets to his job at Kroger. I know the librarian who shares my love of all things Terry Pratchett, and the other librarian whose several kids ask an infinite number of questions beginning with the word “Why…?” Truthfully, I don’t need an instrument case as an excuse for a conversation – I talk with everyone. People like me; it usually works out well.
I was all the way to my bus stop, panting from a sprint up the hill, before I realized that today felt different. See, I was wearing my new hat, the one with the pink ears. I never wear pink. Pink is not me. But my friend Sarah made me a pink pussyhat to wear to the March in Washington DC, and it is warm and soft and reminds me of a phenomenal experience. I really like this hat. For me, it symbolizes hope.
And here I am, waiting for my bus, thinking….
“Damn, this is the wrong neighborhood to wear this hat. Someone’s going to yell at me.”
“There’s a Trump sign on this block.”
“What if someone spits at me? No one has ever spit at me before. I don’t know how I should react to spitting.”
“Wait, what if the bus driver hates pussyhats and decides to ignore me standing here?”
“OMG, this is what folks with dark skin feel like ALL THE TIME.”
Check your privilege, right? I may be one of the working poor, and female, and have a disabled son, but I know I have privilege. I’m educated, and employed in skilled work that I love, and I have a safe, warm home and a loving family. And I’m white.
Most of all, I’m white.
The bus comes.
The driver stops, just as he always does, and lets me on.
I sit down, not making eye contact with anyone. None of my regular bus friends riding today. No one commenting on my hat.
Breathe, Emily. Breathe.
Folks get on, glance at my hat, smile a little, look away.
I get out a few blocks before my morning volunteer gig. Walk up the B-Line Trail, exchange a friendly greeting with the park maintenance guys. Traffic stops for me at the crosswalk, a lady waves through her car window.
Finally, as I approach my building, a young man calls out, “I like your hat!”
Somewhere along the morning’s journey, I realized why we need to keep wearing the hats.
We’ve created a symbol, a highly visible, attention-drawing, powerful symbol, and this symbol says a simple thing to many, many people:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I STAND WITH YOU.
Women, you are not alone.
GLBTQIA folks, you are not alone.
Immigrants, you are not alone.
Black Lives Matter activists, you are not alone.
Climate change scientists, you are not alone.
Homeless neighbors, you are not alone.
Teachers, you are not alone.
Jews, Muslims, Christians, atheists, folks of any faith and of no faith, you are not alone.
Children, you are not alone. We will give you our hats if you are cold, and our love and protection from these horrors that are confusing and scaring you. You are ours, and you are loved, and you are not alone.
I’m going to keep wearing my hat.
Hope you will, too.
Emily Nehus is a violinist, instructor, activist and mother in Bloomington, IN. This essay was republished with her permission.