I had a dream last night. I don’t often remember my rêves, but this one is sticking with me. My teeth were yellowed with large white splotches, gums red and irritated, and when I touched a tooth, I discovered it was loose, about to fall out. Despite the impending loss of all my teeth, and some unknown (possibly a disease of some sort) causing this, I was not as scared as I should have been in the dream. I was upset by it, but I remember having a fleeting notion that it would be fixable. I had the feeling everything would be ok. What privilege I have to feel that way, even in my nightmares.
How many thousands of children has our government taken from their parents in the name of procedure over the last several weeks? How many children and parents are suffering through nightmares and realities even worse than their sleeping time? Are they able to find any hope? Do they feel that things will eventually be ok? I don’t see how they can have that privelege of thought when this country doesn’t even value their humanity enough to give them basic rights of psychological development. Children and babies ripped from their mother’s arms because someone decided these children aren’t worth enough to be valued as who they are. Instead, they need to be used as a tool to teach others a lesson.
Well, lesson learned. Maybe I’m not the one who the lesson was directed to, but I’ve received it loud and clear. People are expendable. People are tools to get what you want. Exponential bullying: bullying immigrants to bully politicians who will manipulate the populous– this is what our country’s leaders are doing. Using heart-wrenching images of children combined with twisted truths and outright lies will keep most of your supporters comfortably in their blinders.
I recently read the book, The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, a Canadian writer. She creates what some think is an implausible tale of a government coup led by a group of religious extremists who think (or claim) they have the best interests of women and society in mind. They insist that women are safer in this new culture where the rich keep their marriages but lose their husbands and those who have proven to be fertile by bearing at least one child are taken from their homes and forced to bear children for others. Women who have been raped are group shamed by other women. The women circle around them, chanting, “Her fault, her fault, her fault. She led him on.” This culture indoctrinates these women, The Handmaids, in inferiority and worthlessness other than their ability to procreate. They are kept in isolation for months before releasing them to their new life as a “sacred vessel” for a family who has not been able to conceive.
The women are given a “uniform” to wear: Long red dresses and large, winged head apparel– blinders.
The women are not allowed to learn to read, they aren’t permitted to have any independence or conversations other than approved exchanges. Because of their blinders, they can not look at eachother directly without being noticed. As a result, they see very little reality of eachother’s lives. They are prisoners in a culture ruled by a few who have decided they need to be the morals and decision-makers for everyone in the country “for their own good”.
It’s a disturbing story for many reasons, but the most difficult part about reading it is that Atwood has vowed that she only included things that have actually happened somewhere in the world, at some point in history. Some who are watching the current series are saying it is unrealistic, and I have only the book to speak to, since I haven’t watched the show, but we have to remind ourselves that all of these forms of oppression have taken place, just not all in the same place.
As I finished reading this book, we had just begun hearing about how children were being taken from their parents, “For the good of the country”. I can see why Atwood was not thrilled to be recognized as a great work of science fiction. She believed it was not in that category that she was writing. How disturbing, how implausible we think it all is, but when we look at history, we see how often people are treated as if they aren’t people at all. The Handmaids were just part of the process to put children into rich (“deserving”) families. They spent their days in their rooms, waiting for the nutritious food they were forced to eat. They walked to the market to do the shopping not to give them some personal space, since they had another handmaid they had to walk with, but because their muscles needed to stay toned for potential pregnancy and childbirth. The new leaders of the society had decided that this was best for them and for the society. They knew who was deserving of children, and it was clearly those with the most money. They knew who was deserving of the most freedoms, and it was clearly the powerful men who continued to do what was forbidden in the society they had created. They knew what was best for everyone, but they weren’t going to hold themselves to that standard. They had the power, so they had the right to decide who was deserving of what life. They controlled the society without thought to individual rights or freedoms. Is it really that implausible that others’ think they have the right to decide who is deserving of what?
One thing I am sure of, children have a right and deserve to be with their parents. When defenders of this family separating “policy” said that criticizing it is not appropriate, they are able to look at the families as numbers–things– and this action simply as “policy”, not as what it truly is– psychologically damaging torture for children and parents who are now reduced to being a number instead of a person.
I’m reading a book right now called Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue. It is a work of fiction that tells the story of an immigrant family from Cameroon who end up so broken by the system that they give up and return to their country defeated. The mother is 2 semesters away from finishing college. The father has been working as many jobs as possible to continue to help her finish school, and they are still living in an impoverished area of Harlem. Days before the family is scheduled to leave New York, they attend the mother’s church to say a goodbye. This is not one of those “mega churches” as I call them, who somehow thought it was a good idea to elect someone who cares only about himself as our president. Who were convinced that it was their right to decide that they knew what was “best for everyone” and that only an anti-abortion candidate would do (let’s just ignore his treatment of women and minorities and how he openly mocked a man with Cerebral Palsy– oh wait, I’m sorry. That was out of context, of course. Because there’s a context in which all of those things would have been fine, right? I digress…). In the book, the church is a church of open-minded people and a pastor who believes in dignity and humanity for all. Who has photos of friends and family in her office including families with two mothers, or just one parent, or two fathers, or a woman and man without children. A pastor who sends them off with a very fitting message, in this section of the book:
“The Scripture that morning was from Genesis 18, the story of the weary visitors who visited Abraham and Abraham, not knowing they were angels, treated them with kindness. Natasha preached about the treatment of weary strangers in America. She decried the contemporary American definition of weary stranger as illegal alien. Remember when we welcomed our visitors at Ellis Island with lunch boxes? She asked to loud applause. And a free doctor’s checkup! Someone in the back shouted. The church roared. Natasha smiled as she watched her congregants whispering among themselves. Sad, she said, shaking her head. Treating our friends in need of help the way we treat our enemies. Forgetting that we could find ourselves in search of a home someday, too. This bears no resemblance to the love the Bible speaks of, the love Jesus Christ preached about when he said we should love our neighbor as ourselves.”
I have been in Canada during this difficult time of learning of the separations of families, and I have suffered acute anxiety verging on depression as a result. I long to hear messages from people like this pastor, to remind me that there are more of us out there than it seems. Those, who, with their openness and love of all humanity, breathe hope into this bleakness where considering someone to be Light and Life seems optional. The anxiety I have suffered from is, of course, nothing compared to what the families in this situation are experiencing. Even my nightmares have glimmers of hopefulness, and these families are still wondering if they will ever see each other again.
I have to find some hope that this cultural climate will change. Though no more families will be separated, thousands of children are being kept from their parents still. Parents separated from their children are told that it will be easiest to connect them with information if the parent knows the child’s “number”. When we reduce humanity to numbers, we take away their personhood. We say we have the rights to decide “what is best for them”, and they have no rights, not even that to be a valuable person. With more people deciding that we all have the right to life and safety and being human, maybe there will be some hope. A chance for hope, a chance for people to be ruled by love, not fear– that is all I can hold on to.