In my nightmares, there are children playing in a field of tall grass, so tall that the only way I know the children are there is by the sound of their voices and the way the grass moves as they run. Then there are men, impossibly tall men, dressed all in camouflage, with guns strapped to their chests and their sides. They tower above the grass as if they’re on stilts. They look as if they weigh a thousand pounds. They are wearing high pointed hoods that cover their faces, like the KKK, but these too are camouflage. The grass and sky seem almost fluorescent against the dull shades of the uniforms. The men are walking through the field, swinging heavy sticks from side to side, like chasing rodents from the grain. When the children’s laughter stops, the soldiers’ begins.
I’m half-awake and dreaming this, vaguely aware of my husband’s hand moving to smooth my hair, hearing his voice from far away, but unable to wake up. It’s been like this since Paris happened. I wonder if Paris is going to become one of those ominous things we say, the meaning changed forever, like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor: no further explanation necessary.
Normally I use Facebook as kind of an escape, a place to share photos with friends and family, to share in their lives from a distance, to grumble about waking up early or the wheels falling off of my quirky old Beetle. I get angry and political sometimes, and when I see things that make me roll my eyes or groan in disgust, I remind myself why I don’t scroll through my newsfeed much. But after Paris, I had to stop checking in at all. Every time I logged in, there was more and more ugliness. I tried to counter it at first, tried sharing my own thoughts there and was met with the usual words of agreement from the people who usually agree with me, but this wasn’t one of those times I needed to just vent and get it out of my system. This was a kind of ugliness that I hadn’t seen before in such massive force. There were people everywhere, everywhere, directing their words of hate and violence toward people who were lost and suffering, not toward terrorists or soldiers but toward families, men and women who were trying to keep their children safe. They were throwing hate and promises of harm at children running away in fear. Children, like mine and yours and the ones next door and across the globe who didn’t have the geographical misfortune to be born inside a war zone. Children whose brown faces are streaked with tears and whose parents call their Abrahamic god by a different name than those who make the threats.
I think about the times that me and mine have been given refuge. I think about the times that people who didn’t have to help did, not because of shared religion or ethnicity but because of shared humanity. I think about the people who could look at a child, any child, anywhere, and see anything but promise. And then I just can’t think anymore. I can’t think, I can’t write, I can’t answer the phone, I get through the day one autopilot step at a time, only really coming to life when I’m teaching or with my children. Guilt for all the things I screwed up with my own kids has come back with a vengeance, and I turn those things over and over in my head with the images of the refugees, the smallest ones. I don’t understand how a parent can think about any child and want to turn them away. I don’t understand how a parent could want to teach their own children that that’s the right thing to do, at all.
I wrote this next bit a couple months ago, but it sums up how I feel now pretty well. Haven’t we all sought refuge from something, sometime?
This has been a trying week, with a lot of scary things happening close to home and around the world. I’ve been simultaneously trying to wrap my head around it all and to pretend that I don’t see the ugliness, and I keep coming back to this one thing that I simply cannot understand. With all the things that you can teach a child:
To paint a picture
To hula hoop
To identify birds by their songs
To play an instrument
To speak another language
To write in cursive
To grow tomatoes
To tie their shoes
To write their name
To play hopscotch
-or Go Fish
-or Mario Kart
To bake a cake
To care for a pet
To wash their hands
To tell a joke
To practice gratitude
Why would anyone want to teach them how to hate?