I like history. I am a nerd. The history of our country hasn’t always been the story of the home of the brave. It’s also the story of how a country of many different people have managed to co-exist without totally and completely exterminating each other. We’ve come close, too! The Civil War wasn’t gallant gentlemen with feathered hats charging each other. It was a full-on blood-soaked slaughter. I mean, let’s get some perspective: for most of our country’s existence we were able to rationalize — with a straight face — declaring all men equal, except for some here and there, and, also, women. We’ve put Americans in internment camps because of the color of their skin, turned a blind eye to the mob justice of lynching, and while I’d like you to think the ‘60s was just hippies spiral dancing, they were, in fact, a savage time in our already savage history . In my lifetime tens of thousands of gay and bisexual men and women died from a plague that was ignored and even laughed at by those in power. No. We haven’t always been brave. Too often we’ve been small and scared and vicious. And yet… and yet. As a boy I became fascinated by the Underground Railroad. I was raised in Virginia, home of Robert E. Lee and the capitol of the Confederacy, and was marinated in Civil War history. Some kids got to go to Disneyland, I got to visit the battleground at Bull Run, an early Southern victory where fancy elites from D.C. came to picnic and watch the carnage and were forced to flee because, you know, war. I remember my dad once telling me that if you ask Americans what was the first war this country lost they’d say Vietnam, except in the South. I didn’t become obsessed with the blue and grey’s epic — and depressingly brutal — battles as some of my friends did. I even knew a few people who became passionate Civil War re-enactors, the Trekkies of Dixie. No. I zeroed in on that underdog patchwork of safe houses and secret routes that helped fugitive slaves escape to freedom. There was resistance — small but mighty — even in antebellum Mordor. The underground railroad was run by abolitionists, black and white, free and enslaved, women and men, citizens of a cruel and broken society who risked their lives to do the right thing. Oh yeah, and then there’s motherfucking Harriet Tubman. Look her up. I was captivated by these undercover rebels who did good without any promise that tomorrow would get any better, which it did, barely, and there is still no guarantee that tomorrow will be better but there is always today. There is always the chance, right now, to do or say something that changes a heart or rescues a dream or saves a life. I suppose, even as a kid, I saw the romance in hopeless battles. Not that our battle is hopeless. But, you know, the thing about a hopeless battle is even if you lose hope, you still fight. And, really, by fight I mean: if someone asks for help, you help. You pray, if that’s your thing. You donate. You organize. You vote. You take good care of yourself. It wasn’t rage that made the underground railroad run. It was patience and tears and spine and stumbles and the grim acceptance that there is something in this life that is more important than fear. One day, maybe, far in the future, long after we’re dead, the brave will fully be counted, and we’ll all, finally, be home. So do unto others, my darlings. Be brave.

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Editor, Humungus. I won two James Beard Awards once for an essay about Taco Bell. Let’s be friends.

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