Mike and I met in seminary. I think a lifetime ago. But let’s fast forward to this morning.
Me: “So you changed the title.”
Mike: “Well, yeah. I figured you might find it funny, but that title would trigger some people.”
Me: “I was thinking it’s about time we all wake up and start talking about stuff.”
Mike: “You feel like writing a blog entry about that thought?”
My head has been exploding with thoughts, emotions, opinions… so much so that I find myself confused and discouraged most of the time. I am sad. I am angry. I am desperate. I am numb. I am shocked. Many people I know find themselves in the same predicament. We’re not alone, we tell each other. So we sob, we Zoom, we find hope in the good we experience around us. We take one step forward, then get pulled back two steps when a video surfaces or a news report is out.
I am mom to two girls, and I find myself quite often asking, “What world are they inheriting from me?” When they’re old enough to leave the nest will they be entering a safer place than what I’m currently in? Will two thirds of the world still be living in poverty? Will pigmentation be the cause of violence and discrimination? What hoops will my girls have to jump through to prove themselves fit and fight gender inequality? What about Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan… where civilizations once thrived, and now ravaged beyond recognition. Global warming… how many more marches and sit-ins? And God, let the #MeToo movement be a cause conquered and learned from, please.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, my childhood years did not include images of children wearing face masks to protect themselves from radiation following the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Neither did I see pictures of families forced to march in to ghettos and concentration camps throughout Poland. I was in my late teens when I learned about the 73-year-old monk in South Vietnam, Thich Quang Duc, who in his will asked the president to be kind to his people, and didn’t move a muscle while his body was engulfed in flames.
But I do remember pictures from the Bhopal Gas tragedy in 1984, the accident that happened at the U.S. owned pesticide plant, Union Carbide. One of the pictures that emerged, “Burial of an unknown child,” sent shock waves around the world. So has hundreds more images. Tank Man at Tiananmen Square protests (1989); The vulture and the little girl (1993, South Sudan); Operation Lion Heart, the story of 9-year-old Iraqi boy, Saleh Khalaf, whose abdomen was ripped open, left eye missing, right hand and most of his fingers on his left hand blown off in an explosion (2003). The picture of him lying on a hospital bed, his shattered body depicted, is agonizing.
Because we live in an Instagram world (and I follow prominent news brands), my girls have seen enough painful pictures for one lifetime, images that have left them visibly shaken. Especially the kind of images which involve children that tear my heart to pieces. Pictures I would’ve considered not fit for 21st century landscape. If I thought The Terror of War, the image of the naked and screaming 9-year-old, Phan Thi, running away from her village after an aerial napalm attack was hard enough, there were more to come! Image of the Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, his body face down on a sandy beach in Turkey (2015); picture of 7-year-old Amal Hussain who became one of millions of Yemeni children dead after years of starvation and horrific realities of a civil war (2018); protests in Hong Kong for democratic reform entering its second year now (March 2019-current); Kashmir on lockdown still, in the guise of curbing terrorism (August 2019-current); and stories of traumatized children separated from families and kept in detention centers, in the land of the free (2018-current).
With the question gnawing at me, “What world am I raising my girls in,” I find myself desperate for assurance. Something, anything, will do. This year did not have a promising start. The U.S. and Iran nearly entered into conflict during the first week of January itself. With bushfires raging in Australia and a volcano eruption in the Philippines, January came and went. By the end of the month China had over 11,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Four months later, the U.S. is still in its first wave of the pandemic, a nation with no leader to work out problems but a man who will quickly play the blame game and always point his finger at others.
If the pandemic wasn’t hard enough, adding insult to injury, the reminder of 400 years of American racism was thrown at our faces. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Dion Johnson, Tony McDade, and Rayshard Brooks are only a few names of lives lost in the last few years because of the color of their skin.
As protests, in the middle of a lockdown, raged across the U.S. a week into George Floyd’s murder, my 12-year-old asked me if she was considered white, her voice trembling with shame. I muttered some obscure response for the moment and later sobbed in bed asking God to gobble up this country whole.
The America I am raising my girls in is broken. “If only this is the worst,” a nagging voice says to me. Everything in me wants to challenge it, regardless of the surge in hate crimes three years in a row since the current administration took charge. This is the America that sent the first human to step on the moon. It is also the America that was called the melting pot, where 20 million immigrants arrived in the span of forty years (1880-1920). It is the land where technological advancements and breakthroughs took it to the forefront of inventions.
Today, as I sort through my thoughts, with nearly 30 million unemployed and with no health insurance, the U.S. stands alone as the only high-income country in the world where coronavirus is out of control (The New York Times, Morning Briefing, July 15, 2020). Especially at a time when health care for all is vital, we as a nation are failing its people’s basic needs.
I want us as a nation to wake up. Not to a collapse of aspirations and opportunities that once made America thrive but to a reckoning that we must reunite in order to repair our broken democracy. As I surrender myself, with the heap of struggles before me, and try to release some weight off my back, I want to connect with my neighbors. I want us to start honest conversations. I want us to look at color and not wince but embrace our diversity, because we are all immigrants converged here with parallel dreams. I want us to be remorseful for the centuries of aggression and oppression that led us to Black Lives Matter. I want America to not be known for its failure to treat minorities as equals, in a land that was taken from the Native Americans.
I want to leave behind a country where all children, not only my two daughters, can live life in peace.[This entry written by Deepa]