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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Moments of Clarity

Quite a few years ago, the book club I belonged to went through a World War 2 phase where every book we read seemed to focus on the Holocaust- "The Boy with the Stryped Pajamas," "The Book Thief," "Atonement, " "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,""Sarah's Key"- we called it our Nazi phase.

Usually we would come to the discussion on how could good people let something like this happen.  How could they stand idly by?

I remember saying that I understood.

And everyone looked at me like I was crazy.

It wasn't because I thought they could deny that it was happening.  I don't believe those people.  I believe they were in denial.  I believe they didn't initial believe it or fathom what was going.  But by the end... they knew.

I understood because I've had a gun pointed at me.  I understood because I have children.  I understood because as a mother, I feel that it is my responsibility to protect my children.

My very best friend is Jewish.  A number of my closest friends are, in fact. 

At that time, I said I would love to think that I would hide people and stand up to the Nazis, but the reality was I didn't know what I would do. 

My friends were stunned.

I'm not shy about standing up for injustice.

But if my family was at risk and could be killed- I honestly said I didn't know.  I said I would probably do what it took to stay alive and keep my family alive.

So I understood why people stood by.

That apparently made me a terrible person.  Well, not really- we're all still friends- but I could tell my honest response surprised everyone.

Flash ahead to election night.

And yes, I'm going to compare it to Hitler's Nazi Germany.

If this offends you, I'd ask you to stay with me.

If you can't see the correlation it's because you're one of the people it didn't impact.

Maybe you voted for Clinton half heartedly and thought "Oh well, she lost."

Maybe you voted for Trump because you wanted to make a statement with your vote.  Give a middle finger to Washington, DC.  A fuck you to the establishment.

I'm from rural Ohio and I don't think my friends who supported Trump there are racists.  Some people are, but no more than I've experienced in the urban areas.  In fact, to be brutally upfront, I've found racism to be far worse in the the cities where I've lived.

I think people who supported Trump  did so because it didn't impact them.

They aren't Muslim so the fear of being required to register for the simple purpose that a few people of their faith committed crimes- far less frequently than Christians murder in the US, as a side note- they weren't worried.

They didn't have any gay friends or relatives whose  marriages were at risk of being dissolved.  Or if they did have gay friends, they might have even thought it was wrong and a choice. 

They didn't have any friends who were unable to get health insurance for pre-existing conditions and could die or lose everything because of it.

They didn't know anyone whose family could be torn apart by forced deportations.  They think becoming a citizen is easy and have no idea about the how process works- the expense, the time line, the misinformation- because they don't have any friends who are immigrants.

They weren't too terribly impacted by the recession because things were never really as bad in Ohio as it was elsewhere because the jobs in the area weren't impacted as much as other parts of the country.

They never knew anyone who lost their home during the recession.

To them, it was just a regular election.  They saw what some of us saw as hate speech as simply rhetoric to get elected.

They had nothing to lose.

But to me, those consequences were real.  Very real.

And the night of the election, one of the people that I love who has been personally targeted by the PEOTUS and his family, texted me because she knew that I knew the math and that Clinton- her friend- was not going to win.

She was terrified.  Not for just herself, either.  The first words she said, as she stood before me shaking, was asking about what would happen to this 10 year old little girl whose mother could be deported.  She had spoken out against the PEOTUS- the little girl- and we know he reacts to people who stand up to him.

And I looked my friend in the eye and grabbed her hands and told her that the little girl would always be welcome in our home.  We would take care of her, no matter what, for as long as it took.

And my friend said "What about the other children?"

And I said they could all come live with me until it was all straightened out.  I said it would make for an interesting Christmas card next year.

And I would adopt her as well, as an adult.  Which she then explained I couldn't, but thanked me.  I told her I would "gay marry" her- but then joked that that was probably shot to hell, too.

So then I said she could stay with us and I would not let anyone take her or her family.  We could build a bunker.

And then I tried to make her laugh because that's how I handle stress.  And she is one of the strongest people I know and I have no doubt that she will be fine.

But in that moment, I learned something about me.

Something I had been unsure of my entire life.  Something I questioned when I read stories about the Underground Railroad. Something I thought about when studying the Civil Rights movement and Dr. King.

What would I do when faced with injustice?  Would I sit idly by?

When I told my friend she would be okay because I would protect her, it was because I meant it with every ounce of strength in my soul.

So yes, I would have hidden my Jewish friends. And their families.  And as many as I could.

As I will hide my Muslim friends if they are forced to register and leave their homes like the Japanese Americans in the 40s.

As I will help my immigrant friends. 

Without a doubt or second thought.

But what about my family?  My children's safety?

The next day, I spoke with my children about the election.  My daughter was in tears because she was worried for her best friend's grandparents.  My son was confused and concerned for our gay friends. 

My children- the ones that I love more than anything-  were worried for others.

So I told them-

"Listen, I don't know what will happen.  I would like to think the Mr. Trump did not mean the hateful things he said to get elected.  But we're going to assume he did.  Because that's the smart thing to do.

And we are going to fight for the people that may not have a voice in the future.  Because that's the right thing to do.

And here's the thing- I hope you know by agreeing to do this, if I ever put you at risk it is not because I don't love you- it's because I do love you.  And I need you to understand this--

I do not want you to grow up in a world where people aren't treated fairly- where they are discriminated against because of their religion or race or who they love.  That is wrong.  As your mother, it is my job to make sure the world does the right thing.  That is the best way for me to be your mother and you shouldn't expect anything less from me.  We do not cower- if we hid and did nothing- that would be wrong.  That's against everything I ever taught you.  Fighting against injustice is how I will protect you.

I will not have you grow up in a world like that- ever.

And if it ever seems that I am putting another child before you, it's because if there ever was a time when your dad and I weren't around, I would hope that someone would stand up for you.  And if I'm not willing to do that for someone else's child, then I cannot expect someone to do it for you.

So we stand together, as a family and we support our friends.  No matter what. 

And we fight to make things better and safer.  And we hope for the best."

Because I want to believe that the hatred spewed was nothing more than campaign rhetoric.

If it's not, I will do everything I can, in every way that I can, to stop it.

I'm fine with political disagreements and philosophical debates.  Muslim registration- no.  Not on my watch.  Because it doesn't stop there.

And for me, being a good mother means doing the right thing.

These are scary times.  When one post, or one tweet can lead to death threats or personal attacks, it's terrifying. 

So for me, social media and protests aren't going to be method of making the world "better."

I will work quietly, in the background, as I always have.

Because I am a human.

I have an obligation to care for others.

Because I am a mother. 

I have an obligation to make this world better for my children.

But even more importantly, to teach my children to do the same.  By my example.

That is what I learned this year.


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