2019

California fires raged
With thousands dispossessed.
Heroic firefighters gave
Their all to save the rest.

Notre Dame Cathedral burned
The spire flared and fell
Smoke and flames made heaven cry
But made them smile in hell.

737 Max
An aviation wonder
Until it twice dove to the ground
346 are under.

As shots rang out in churches,
People shrieked in pain.
In synagogues and mosques alike,
The anguish was the same.

At Walmart in El Paso,
Twenty-two are dead.
Then a dreary bar in Dayton,
Again the news we dread.

Mueller turned his homework in
But left indictments open.
No collusion proven here!
Just like old Trump was hopin’.

And then the Congress held debates
All cynical and jaded.
“He’s impeached!” the Speaker said
And then she sat and waited.

Nothing changes, nothing’s good
If news is all you’re knowing
And all the while the world goes by
With goodness overflowing.

So here’s a toast to old 19,
It put us to the test.
And here’s a hope for 20-new
That we will see the best.

Refugees

I have been writing about refugees since December 2013, when I first started reading that Syrians, escaping war and running for their lives, were overwhelming the poorest country in the European Union, a place where I feel a deep connection and affection. “Bulgaria is a thousand miles from Syria! Are they desperate? Well, yes. That’s war, don’t you know? Damn them there, damn them here. War is hell…” That was part of my melancholy homage, that year, to the Christmas spirit. I continued hammering at the subject of refugees until late last year, when with a weary sigh I started picking at a few other themes to fill the space. About three years ago I decided to stop just figuratively wringing my hands about refugees and started volunteering at a refugee resettlement center. Doing something about something is so much better for the soul than complaining about it.

Photo from The Economist (2015)

In the time that I have been working at the African Community Center — don’t be misled by their legacy name; they handle refugees from all over the world — the world and I have both changed. I have become defensive on the subject of refugees, to the point of not writing or talking much about it. I have become tired of the arguments, and resigned to the cynicism and lack of compassion I see outside the small community of concern. I have had to accept that I can change my heart but no other. As for the rest of the world, the situation is dire and getting worse. For both those blissfully unaware of it all and for those feverishly working against the tide, the result is the same: apathy and futility have the same result.

Refugees are living displaced from their homes by the millions — millions! — in Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iran. Lesser numbers, but still large, live in Uganda, Jordan, and Germany. Really, enumerating more countries hosting refugees is pointless; they are all over the world, mostly in poor countries nearest to the places besieged by war and terrorism. 1 Only a fraction live in refugee camps, although refugee camps recognized by the UNHCR 2 are the exclusive screening mechanism used by the United States for admittance of the few who are selected to be resettled here. Refugee families typically arrive on an airplane, bringing documentation and medical clearance papers. They also carry a note of indebtedness for their airfare that has to be paid back to the U.S. State Department as they become employable and get on their feet in their new country.

As for the United States, though, we’re not even talking about the refugees that have been my focus for so long. Unlike refugees, who flee their homes due to war or persecution, migrants choose to move for better economic opportunities or family reunification, or, as a separate but overlapping reason, for asylum. Still, the parallels are striking, starting with the lifeboat analogy and encompassing every kind of response from unalloyed and impractical mercy to vicious, blind hate speech. Why is this so hard?

What has consumed us since before the last election, when fear was weaponized as a political strategy, is the terrible mess at  our southern border not with refugees but with other kinds of migrants. Many of those are seeking asylum, as is their legal right if they can prove they would face danger of harm or death back at the homes they left. Our broken-down system of handling the process of granting asylum has choked on the volume, and is completely unable to sort out the legitimate asylum seekers from those that will not qualify. Worse, it cannot account for, let alone care for, either category.

I read an article in Time that reached into my heart, and expressed so much better than I could the reasons for my concern. It was written by a celebrity [groan] but one with a high degree of earned credibility on the subject. I recommend it for your consideration.

Angelina Jolie: The Crisis We Face at the Border Does Not Require Us to Choose Between Security and Humanity

TL;DR

“We all want our borders to be secure and our laws to be upheld, but it is not true that we face a choice between security and our humanity: between sealing our country off and turning our back to the world on the one hand, or having open borders on the other. The best way of protecting our security is by upholding our values and addressing the roots of this crisis. We can be fearless, generous and open-minded in seeking solutions.”

 

Owed to My Mother

Happy Mothers Day! If you are one, you deserve more than a day. That goes for all mothers — ones who gave birth themselves, adopters, steps, grannies and aunts and big sisters who took over to fill a void, “bonus moms” of all kinds.

I once misunderstood something a friend said, talking about appreciation of mothers, and after a moment I realized she meant a poem, an ode. But I was off on my own thought. Ode to my mother! No, owed. To my mother? OK…

My life, for starters.

Something of a dry sense of humor, if I flatter myself. I owe that to her.

Reaching way back, I remember her reading at bedtime, those old stories. She took me into the pages, walking me into the soft golden pictures with her voice and all its many personalities. Sometimes I still go back there, when I think of those stories, or when I read them to my grandchildren.

Anna, about 1944Bacon and eggs before school on dark cold winter mornings, in long-ago days when these were good for you. Fried chicken on Sundays, potatoes and gravy and greens, meals together every night. It wasn’t just eating though; it was a family communion.

I owe to my mother the way I think about life. Attitude. “You decide how you feel. You don’t let things run you.” If the worst thing happens, you get up in the morning and you do what you have to do for the day. It doesn’t change you; you know who you are. You change it.

Confidence, doing things I didn’t think I could. She gave me that. The bicycle I rode for the first time was her old bike, handlebars tall as my shoulders. It was taken down from the rafters and fixed up for me when I was ready. Mom held me up and pushed, running behind. “Don’t let go!” I called out. She didn’t answer. Pedaling hard, I didn’t see her turn me loose. I don’t know that she ever did.

Respect for women. It came in jagged little bits sometimes. When I was older, once after a few beers with my brother in the kitchen, he talked of being afraid to do some fool thing or other and I called him a pussy. Mom stopped me cold. Not just that the word was vulgar and crude, and shouldn’t have been said in her presence. It offended her more than that. “Does that word mean weak? Women are weak? Or afraid? Women don’t have courage?” 

That thing about giving me my life, though, that’s the big one. She didn’t just give it to me and leave me to figure it out. She shaped it and gave it color and form.

“Try it, see if it works.”

“Just look at that sky. Isn’t that beautiful?”

Yes, that’s it, my life. Owed to my mother.

 


I wrote this essay when I was younger so you may have seen it before. It still rings true to me and brings back warm memories and appreciation. I miss my mom.