If you’re feeling generous this holiday season and wondering how to make the most of your charitable giving, head on over to my recent post for All Over Albany and learn how to be a great do-gooder. Hint: give from the heart, give with trust and respect, give regularly, give unrestricted donations, give money instead of things (usually) and… ask your chosen nonprofit org what they need. No bizplaining or hysteria about “overhead” necessary :)
I paused in my car to hear the end of a story on All Things Considered with a recording of young children crying at a detention center. I heard the sounds of their trauma, the terror in their cries, the heartbreak and heartrage of their parents and the wild-eyed frantic desperation their mamas felt when their babies were stolen from them.
I paused again on my walk inside, up the beautiful new path we paid to have built to our door, in the backyard of the home we own, in a city where we feel safe, close to family, with heat and air conditioning and clean water and stability. Where my ethnicity and race and language and education afford me privileges that others are systematically denied.
I stepped inside. My husband and toddler greeted me with their handsome grins and hugs. Clark was having a tough night. He spent much of it crying and whining and tantruming, which is unusual for him. For a fleeting moment I thought, "Here I am, enduring my son's inconsolable cries just like those mothers seeking asylum." What a foolish thought that was. No, this was nothing like what those mamas at the border are facing. Clark was crying because he wanted a pop. He wasn't crying from fear or terror or trauma. He wasn't afraid for his body. He wasn't wondering where his mommy or daddy was. He wasn't crying for human touch that the guardians of the stolen border children aren't allowed to provide. He wanted dessert, that's all. When he eventually calmed down, Chris and I quietly poured ourselves a drink and the three of us set out for an evening walk around our neighborhood. We weren't afraid that anyone would take Clark from us or that one of us would be arrested or deported. We weren't fearful for the safety of our own bodies, or imagining the bullets or handcuffs or humiliation that might come upon us. We were a young family on a walk, nothing to see here.
How do you reconcile your immense gratitude for your life with your visceral, shared pain of the world? I'm having trouble finding that edge and balance. I still fret over picking out new couches to brighten our living room. I still concern myself with my weight and my skin and my clothes. I'm worried when all Clark eats is cheese and toast and strawberries. I admonish myself for not having planned a family summer vacation sooner because all of the charming Airbnb rentals are booked. Flip that: I have a home and a living room and money to buy couches and cheese and toast and strawberries and paid vacation time and the luxury to still worry about all of those things.
I guess what I'm saying is, there is a lot of pain in this world and today I'm haunted by the cries of babies who have been torn apart from their mamas and daddies. I hear the pleas of brave parents who risked everything they had to save their babies, to leave their homeland in search of safety and freedom.
You know what to do. Find an organization you trust who is doing the work to end this crisis and give. Give more than you think you can and please, for the love of progress, don't complain about their overhead expenses or employee salaries. Listen, love & give. If you need a nudge in the right direction, Together Rising has been doing an incredible job researching and connecting with on-the-ground organizations to pass through 100% of the money they raise. You can also donate through ActBlue and have your donation split among several trustworthy orgs. Cup of Jo published a great piece dispelling myths and suggesting ways to help. Families Belong Together is organizing non-violent actions and rallies as well as encouraging support for organizations on the ground.
I feel more deeply now that Clark is here. Many of you possess this superpower without having kids. You are next-level feelers and empathizers. I salute you, and assure you that I don't think this ability belongs only to parents. Yes, I've dedicated much of my professional and personal time to social justice but I have to be straight with you, it wasn't because of a particularly deep human connection but rather a vague framework of and belief in justice and fairness and equality. But Clark came along, and now when the newspapers show photos of babies who died from sarin gas or from drowning trying to flee their country or starving from government-created famine, I see Clark's face. I see his little chubby hands grabbing up for me and I hear my whispers that I'll always keep him safe, always. I think about what it must be like to know with absolute certainty that I won't be able to keep that promise. I think about not being able to feed him or protect him from violence. I see his innocent eyes twinkle and picture them looking at me as bombs drop or the boogymen come. Many of you have always been able to see this, to feel this, but it's a new experience for me. Whether I want to or not, I feel everything so deeply and painfully these days.
Which is why I call bullshit on the border wall and the refugee ban and the lack of empathy and compassion being broadcast from the highest levels of government in our country. You can't take military action in Syria and pretend it's to save Syrian babies, and then deny them and their families refuge. You can't cut off foreign aid because you believe that American babies are worthier than non-American babies. You can't slash social services and health care because you believe poor babies deserve less than middle-class or rich babies. You can't make the choice for a woman about whether or not she even has a baby.
Today, I stand with #womenforsyria. I mourn for the mothers who can't protect their babes in Syria and also in Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia and South Sudan and here in the United States. I mourn for the mothers in my own country who think that these other babies deserve their starvation, trauma and fear, who don't yet feel the tug of sisterhood imploring them to act with compassion. I mourn for the damage that nationalism continues to inflict on our world and our neighbors.
I've always lost sleep over "world news". But now my mind plays a reel of Clark's face in every desperate situation, and then it's the burning anger when I think how if he were a different race, religion, from a different country or born to another family... the world might turn a blind eye to his suffering. That is as unacceptable for my baby as it is for babies and women and men all over the world.
Photo above of my beautiful, smiley, delicious baby boy who is already eight months old. Parenthood is a time warp, and I feel like time is slipping away from me like never before. Every day I feel more urgency to not only write, but to share, to search for common ground, to tell truth, to dismantle shame and to let light shine in. So, less editing, more publishing. Maybe.
It's been a tough few weeks in the world, but I know that every week brings with it violence that is often not reported, or at least not reported here in the U.S. My heart is heavy for those who suffer violence, for the black men who have died at the hands of police, for the police officers who died at the hands of cowardly snipers, for those who died in horror at their safe haven in Orlando, for victims of terrorism in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Baghdad and countless of other places in countries I've never been to, for the women and girls around the world who are used as pawns in bloody wars, for those who face physical or emotional violence every day just because of who they are or love. Others will say and do more than I can right now, but I will continue to hold space and light for those suffering today.