I stare out my office window, my fingers hovering above the keys. What to write? What to say? How to help?
We’re in the weeds, I said to my therapist the other week, meaning my family, my kids. Things are hard. We yell a lot. We yell about not yelling. In calmer moments, and even in the not so calm ones, I see the irony, but not enough to stop.
Yet, we’re lucky. So damn lucky.
“Aleppo!” I said to my husband this morning, when he asked if I’m stressed about the kids. “They’re supposed to be busing them out today.” Too little too late. Streets littered with blood and bodies. Children trapped in rubble, humans being slaughtered, saying their last goodbyes on social media.
The world is falling down, like the sky in the Chicken Little story I read to our son last night. But in some countries, it actually IS.
There is a rope hanging from a tree in our backyard. I see it from my office window. It dangles like a pendulum from a high branch. It used to hold a yellow wooden swing that my husband built over the summer. It was beautiful. But days later the paint began to swell and buckle. Eventually he took it down, but the rope remains. It hangs ominously. It reminds me of everything but the swing.
No liberty is safe.
I said these words to a friend and my husband a couple weeks ago while our children played. We were talking about abortion rights. My husband said of course Roe v Wade was safe. I disagreed.
For the first time in my life, I don’t feel safe. My liberties don’t feel safe. I’ve been sheltered from this because of my privilege. Being white, upper middleclass. I’ve spent my life in comfort, both materialistically and psychologically.
While I am Jewish – and I’ve been reminded my entire life about my religion’s persecution, past and present – I’ve never had cause to feel worry.
I’ve never been afraid of getting pulled over by the police. No one gives me shady looks or denies me entrance when I’m shopping. For the most part, I’ve managed to slide through the world unscathed, except for the whole being a woman thing.
I know what it’s like to be taunted, heckled, threatened. I know what it’s like to be demeaned, intimidated, attacked.
But still, I’m lucky.
The other day at my daughter’s school, a boy at lunch said that anyone who likes Hillary Clinton is weird. They’re in third grade. Kids. This is a boy I like, one who stood up for my daughter when she was being bullied.
I was surprised, and yet not. There has been chatter among the children. They repeat what they hear at home.
Before I could ask what happened next, my daughter told me that she spoke up. Used her voice. I gripped the countertop with both hands. “What did you say?”
“I told him it was offensive to me,” she said with a shrug and a hint of a smile. Like no big deal. “But I said it in a serious voice,” she added.
I was stunned. My daughter who is terrified of dogs, getting up on stage, and walking to the bathroom at night wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. To stand up for her feelings.
Squealing with delight, I gave her a high five. “You spoke up for yourself, and you defended Hillary Clinton.” I beamed with pride. So did she.
Want to know what my next thought was?
I was afraid. Because I know what can happen to people, girls, who speak up. How quickly and ruthlessly they can be cut down.
“What did he say?” I asked, trying to sound casual, bracing myself.
Relief. But she had another story to share. A different boy had made up a song about building a wall. She said it was funny, and started singing it. It was a song about a wall, and violence, all sung to the tune of Frozen’s, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”
I asked if she thought he was referring to Donald Trump’s proposed wall. She didn’t know. I told her not to sing the song, gently explaining how scary it could be to kids in her class with families in Mexico. How offensive and hurtful, even if it wasn’t the intention.
Words matter. Oh, how much they matter.
She agreed, and then asked me if she should tell the boy not to sing it.
My first instinct was a big fearful NO. I took a deep breath and said she didn’t have to, but it was up to her.
Clearly, it’s me who should be taking lessons from her, because the next day she spoke up AGAIN.
She asked him if the wall in the song referred to Trump’s, and it did. Then she asked him not to sing it. She explained what we had discussed at home. At first he laughed, and then he agreed not to.
“He could’ve been mean,” my daughter said thoughtfully, “but he wasn’t.”
I know that one day someone will be mean, but I can’t silence her preemptively. Out of fear. She is strong and brave. I will encourage her to speak up, teach her how to face both kinds of responses, and I will learn from her at the same time.
The world is coming apart at the seams. Our liberties are at stake.
And I’m through being quiet about it.
Links for helping refugees in Aleppo and in the world:
Links for battling hate and discrimination, fighting for our liberties: