the suffering of which we spare ourselves the sight

I woke up this morning with my head on a pillow, in a sleeping bag, in a v-berth of a sailboat, tied up at a free town dock in a small coastal town in North Carolina, next to a man who likes to start the day by planting gentle kisses on my forehead.  

I have been feeling pretty down lately, worrying a lot, not sure of the goodness of my choices of how and where to live my life, so I decided to do something that often helps me feel better, which is to think about the things that I’m grateful for.  This morning those things included, a warm bed, access to healthy, nourishing food and clean water, a life partner who truly cares about my well being and the well being of everyone he meets, and my freedom of movement, including my passport.  

When I spend time thinking of the things I’m grateful for, I often end up wishing that all humans could have these things.  I am hyper aware of the fact that I am simply lucky to have these things.  I did not earn them.  I have not worked harder in my life or been more honest or ethical or kind or generous than so many people who do not have these basic things - shelter, nourishment, nurturing, and freedom to go almost wherever I want to go.  

A loved one called me this morning and he sounded really down.  It took him a long time to tell me why.  He had heard the news of a 7 year old girl who had died in ICE / CBP custody.  He is a dad of two beautiful daughters.  He was in terrible pain imagining the pain that the father of this girl must be feeling.  He was in terrible pain over the fact that his country was responsible for the death of this child.  He was angry and hurting to know that this is happening.  He could imagine himself in that father’s shoes.  and it hurt.  

My advice to my loved one was to feel that pain and anger, to feel it and also remain present in his own place and time.  To acknowledge the pain and anger and use it to make change.  He pushed back, saying there wasn’t anything he could do - that child is already dead.  It’s true that we cannot now help this child, but we can help others just like her. The lie we are encouraged to believe is that we can’t do anything about this, but we CAN change this situation.  It won’t be easy and it won’t be fast, but together we can change this.  If we each do what we can, with what we have, right where we are, we can change things.  

What can I do, right where I am, from a sailboat, as one critic put it, “just floating through life”?  I can raise awareness.  I can listen and learn and share what I learn.

Today, when I hung up the phone after that painful conversation, I read several articles about the death of that one little girl - the steps CBP took to try to save her life, the discussion of the causes and who might be at fault, the calls for an investigation into the conditions in ICE/CBP facilities, and more.  And I am re-listening to the  Border Trilogy of podcasts by Radiolab.  It is very difficult material that I think everyone who has ANY opinion on the subject of immigration should listen to (links to all three episodes below).  

The reason I am listening to those episodes again is because they look deeply at the policies that have been put into place to push people who want to cross the border away from cities and into the desert. Policies that stem from political strategies that affect real peoples’ lives. Politics that decide if people will live or die, who will have the chance to live and die in what places, who has the freedom to move across borders and who doesn’t.

We should not be less sensitive to the wrongs of this world, though it might spare us some pain. We should not look away or wash our hands of the responsibility of engaging in political conversations.  Instead we should feel the pain and let it guide our choices at the polling place and at the cash register.  Breathe in the pain, hold it, feel it, transform it, and breathe out what we want to feel instead.  Transform our pain into loving action.  Let it guide our choices about how we treat each other in our day to day lives, but also as a matter of policy.  If a news story hurts you, if you feel pain at the way others are being treated by your government, tell your elected officials and if they don’t listen, replace them, run against them, even if you don’t win, you’ll change the conversation. Make some noise. Rest when you need to, but don’t give up.

It takes courage to feel. It takes courage to speak up. Have courage dear friends.  Have courage enough to love each other well.  Notice each others’ courage, too.  

Today, I am also grateful for a kindred spirit who acknowledged my courage and who until yesterday, was a stranger to me.  She saw the letter that I wrote, about leaving a course I had been taking because of sexist and racist behavior by the instructor, and she reached out to me.  Yesterday we got to meet each other in person and get to know each other a little.  She is the director of a non-profit here in Pamlico County, North Carolina called The Hope Clinic which provides free medical services to local residents who might otherwise get none.  She is literally a life saver.  She has a tattoo that seems relevant to this post which she graciously allowed me to photograph.  I’m truly grateful to know you, Sheri.  Thank you for reaching out.  (Mary Ford, you might be happy to know that one of the beautiful safety pins you gifted me is now being worn by Sheri.)