I, like most everyone else, have been horrified and sickened by the reports of children being separated from their parents or caregivers at this country’s borders. It is almost too much for me to imagine the pain of every person going through such a nightmare, one that is heart-wrenching, one that is traumatizing in both the present and that will be for the rest of their lives, and one that is unnecessary and avoidable.
I remember sitting in the front seat of the car with my Mama one morning as she was dropping me off at my elementary school. I became frantic that I wouldn’t see her again for whatever reason — the anxiety raging in me that had been produced by the cornucopia of dysfunctional delights at home, or just a child’s moment of neediness — and I began to cry and beg her to take me to work with her. I needed to be close to her for a little while longer that morning, and she, being soft-hearted despite the strength she often displayed in raising my sister and me, honored my request and let me sit beside her at her desk at the courthouse for a few hours. When I felt better, she took me to school. I was six-years-old.
I know now that I spent most of my childhood feeling insecure about my footing in the world because I was unsure about hers. I was always afraid that I would lose her. There are now myriad examples of how those feelings have manifested themselves in my adult life. I’m one of the lucky ones — I’ve been able to trace it all back and find many of the events that ultimately produced my mass of symptoms — and I still, even with all of these years lived and with a lot of personal work done — catch myself in the throes of reptile brain, reacting and thrashing around, sometimes wreaking havoc in my own life because I’ll do anything I can think of to do to just be safe (though safe is a relative term and I don’t always know what it actually is) — until I can talk myself into a calmer state.
I can’t imagine what those children who are now separated from their families feel, who are not just being dropped off at school for the day. Who is holding them? Who is loving them? Who is making sure they eat? Who is playing with them when they’re in, “foster care or whatever?” Who is making sure they aren’t mistreated and abused? What about the ones who can’t communicate in english? What about the ones who can’t communicate AT ALL? I’m sure there are some. How will any of them ever recover from having the only safety they’ve ever known, their families, taken away? Think, for a minute, about how all of that trauma will reverberate into the world.
Look, I know the arguments about why people shouldn’t try to cross the border illegally. I understand them. It can’t just be a free for all in the supposed land of the free. But why are we so removed from the feelings that cause such actions? How can we sit back and not be able to imagine ourselves attempting to escape violence, extreme poverty, lack of resources and education and medical services in whatever way we could? Why is it that so few of us seem to be able to imagine ourselves being in such unlucky positions? Insert the quote about being born on third base and thinking you hit a triple here…
Why do we consider those less fortunate than we are to be the others? All it takes to be an other is being unlucky enough to be born in a country that isn’t as prosperous as this one. All it takes to be an other is making a few decisions that turn out to be the wrong ones. All it takes to be an other is being born non-white. Yes, I just wrote that down.
Just imagine, for a second, those things happening to you. Imagine looking at your child grow up with danger all around her every day, without clean water, without good schools, without enough to eat. Then imagine NOT doing everything you could to get her a better life. You wouldn’t not do everything you could for her, would you? Imagine doing the only thing you can think of — fleeing your circumstances — then imagine having her taken away from you because you tried. Imagine knowing you might never see her again. Imagine her knowing she might never again see you. All because you wanted something better.
When we can’t picture ourselves in positions of vulnerability, we get in real trouble. None of us are so big and powerful that we couldn’t be reduced to helpless in a few seconds flat for whatever reason. When we are removed from the emotions and complexities of an issue, we accept terms like “zero-tolerance,” as normal. Zero tolerance? Where is the compassion in a policy like that? When we let our politics get in the way of people, no matter where they were born, we lose. When we don’t think ahead and consider cause and effect, we lose. When we are removed from each other, in whatever way, we lose.
Happy Monday, Y’all.