I turned 32 today. It is the most unremarkable, ordinary
birthday I’ve ever celebrated, and for that reason one of the finest.
Sometimes in novels you will read about characters who are
so selfless and other-focused that they forget their own birthdays. That’s not
me. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t need a big fuss, but I’ve never forgotten the
occasion—until this morning, when I woke and my wife’s “Happy Birthday!” caught
me genuinely by surprise.
“Oh!” I said. “Thanks! I’d forgotten.” And so the first morning of my 33rd year began, just like any of
the other mornings that preceded it.
I showered, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, and went to the
kitchen while Natalie took her turn in the bathroom. There, with Kate Campbell’s hymns in the background, I
prepared for the day: I ground some fresh coffee, I put a pot of water on the
stove. While waiting for the pot to boil I emptied the dishwasher—methodically,
contentedly—and washed up a few dishes from last night. I readied the French press, set it
aside to steep, and poured my usual mixture of raw oatmeal and bran that
everyone but me and Natalie thinks tastes like horse food.
No breakfast in bed. No fanfare. No new car in the driveway.
Just life, in all its quotidian glory.
I’ve made a career tending a store at the crossroads of
politics and faith. And I know how
frankly loathsome the entire political exercise strikes so many of my peers, a
generation that’s been burned once too often by the hypocrisy and misguided
zeal of our forebears.
Each week seems to bring its own scandal. The ceaseless
attack, parry and riposte of dueling pundits fills the 24-hour news
cycle with meaningless clatter. We do well to remember that there is no other
game quite like politics, and it is a dirty and ruthless one.
But every once in a while, like this morning as I put the
pot to boil, I am reminded of the real purpose of politics.
Politics is about the polis—Greek for the people.
And the American experiment recognizes this singular fact in a way that has
proven one of human history’s unique achievements. The Declaration of
Independence gets politics about as perfect as it is possible to get: that
human government exists to serve the well-being of the governed rather than
political office-holders; that the governed are created equal and entitled by
virtue of their creation with a right to live, to be free and to pursue
happiness; and, that people have a right to expect their government to be
committed to their “safety and happiness.”
This is why, in spite of our nation’s historical
transgressions, I love this country with a passion exceeded only by God and
family. This is why my patriotism is devoid of irony and painfully earnest.
And this is why I remember in my best, most ordinary
moments, that politics is really not at all about the Beltway drama. Politics
is, instead, all about waking up with my wife on a birthday I’ve forgotten and
making coffee and putting away the dishes and pouring a bowl of oatmeal before
I get to work. Politics is why I
do those things without a second thought because I know the water from the tap
will be clean and safe to drink, that the electricity will reliably brighten a
dawn-dark kitchen, and that I am free to listen to hymns while I do all this.
Politics, at its heart, is why I know my house is safe and
secure and I need not fear, nor do my neighbors who are also making coffee and
eating cereal and preparing for their own daily work.
And, precisely because
it is a blessing beyond measure to wake to the blissful normality of making
coffee and facing the day—and precisely because there are those, both here and abroad, who wake in
darkness without a home or in a home that is scant refuge from violence; or
whose water makes them ill; or whose only light is the sun; or whose
governments terrorize them; or who dare not even hum a hymn; or whose 32nd birthday may not be forgotten because it means that their lives
are drawing rapidly toward their statistically probable end—precisely because
Tyler Wigg-Stevenson is the founding director of the Two
Futures Project (Twitter @2FP). Help create a safer, more righteous future by
signing up for the movement at http://twofuturesproject.org.