Those of you who follow my Facebook page may have noticed nothing new went up this past week. I found several items promoting the things dearest to my heart, boosting literature and self-esteem. But as my finger hovered over the “Share” button, I drew back every time. After the events in the news, it all seemed trivial.
Bad enough that some deeply disturbed and hate-filled people attacked public places in France, but the horror didn’t end there. Before the hostages in France breathed liberated air, people in my country, thousands of miles away, began to proclaim that we should bar refugees fleeing the terrorist attackers entry to our country, for safety. And then, the anti-Islamic hate crimes started.
“Look for the helpers,” Mr. Rogers said, so I did. I downloaded the soundtrack (well, the mini-soundtrack, because the whole thing isn’t available yet) to Allegiance, the Broadway show promoted by and starring George Takei of Star Trek fame. It tells the story of a Japanese family forced into an internment camp during World War II. For those that don’t know, Mr. Takei and his family were taken from their home in Los Angeles and sent to a containment center in Arkansas. The actor has spent considerable energy getting this story written and produced, so that a largely forgotten episode of America history gets the attention that it deserves, and we all understand what reactionary fear can lead to. None too soon. One mayor in Virginia called for an end to all help to the Syrian refugees, referencing the internment of people of Japanese heritage – FYI, Mr. Bowers, two-thirds of the 127,000 people taken from their homes were American citizens, born right here on U.S. soil, not “foreign nationals” as you claim – as a good example. You can read Mr. Takei’s beautiful response here.
Some critics like the show, some think the songs feel cliched. Regardless of the lyrical craftsmanship, I still found myself crying after listening to the romantic ballad “With You.” We’ve all had that moment with someone else when the world went away and it felt like just the two of you, but most of us didn’t have it surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. The idea that love could surmount something that wretched did a number on my heart, even without perfect turns of phrase.
The tears melted my heart enough for me to start to express myself again.
I’m angry about the attacks, on France of all places. France, the country that conservatives in our country frequently accuse of political softness. That anyone could find their salvation in killing another person? I don’t understand it. Neither do most Muslims around the world, who have condemned the actions loudly and repeatedly.
I’m equally angry, however, about the political rhetoric filling the internet now. Prevent all refugees from entering the U.S. because one of those might be a terrorist masquerading as a refugee. Never mind that no refugees were involved in the attacks in France, and that the supposed Syrian passport found at the site of one of the attacks was fake. Forget that the people we call refugees are fleeing those self-same terrorists because they don’t want to be part of the madness. Instead of leaders, we have a Congress full of professional followers, who loudly declare their doors closed because the voters are afraid, so spouting xenophobia is “smart politics.”
The politics of fear have brought us everything we are afraid of. – Jill Stein
Don’t worry, that’s the end of my political rant. Democrats and Republicans are both guilty of the fear-mongering. I’m not going to single anyone out because they all need to cut it the hell out, and we all need to make them.
I’m tired of a world that doesn’t see the bigger picture.
I get it. Big picture thinking is hard sometimes. It requires looking beyond the gut-level reaction and analyzing data, so that sometimes you end up with something very different from where you started. Just one example: as a woman of above-average height, I’ve heard my whole life, “Be proud of your height! Stand up straight!” I’ve never found height anything to be for or against, really. Some things about it are good – I can usually reach the top shelf. Some are bad – lots of men find me intimidating, before I even open my mouth. (Tall ones among them.) But to me, mostly, it isn’t good or bad. It just is. Trying to find it impressive reminds me a lot of trying to feel like an ice cream cone in acting class. Like the girl in A Chorus Line, I just look around trying to figure out what everyone else understands that I don’t.
If I’m slouching, it probably has nothing to do with how I feel about my height. It’s more to do with how I feel about my life that day. I’m tired, I’m discouraged, I’m lonely. Frankly, hearing “Stand up straight!” just reminds me that one more thing about me, my posture, is substandard. You want me, or your teenage daughter or son, or your other vertically-enhanced friend, to make good use of our inches? Remind us of something we have going for us. Say, “I love that new haircut. It really brings out your eyes” or, “You make the best cookies in the whole world” or even, “Wow, what you ordered sounds delicious. You always find the best thing on the menu.” Point out anything about us that you genuinely admire, even if it’s small or silly, and see if we don’t stand up at least a fraction of an inch taller.
It’s confusing. You want me to stand up straight, you should be able to say “Stand up straight!” and get the desired result. Unfortunately, we tall folk still qualify as human beings, and have all this human baggage attached to us. Sometimes the direct approach is the least efficient way to get the job done.
Sending refugees away to protect U.S. citizens from a terrorist organization makes sense from a gut-level, fear-based response. Someone scared me. The people that scared me are from that part of the world, so I don’t want anyone from that part of the world coming here. But it denies the truth that refugees are not terrorists, they’re victims of the terrorists. It ignores the fact that there is an eighteen-month-to-two-year-long screening process for refugees, and that even if they ask to be resettled in the U.S. they might still get sent somewhere else, and that trying to get into the U.S. as a refugee is pretty much the least efficient means a terrorist could use. It also doesn’t entertain the possibility that some angry teenager who lost his whole family trying to escape the hell that their home had become might start to think we really do hate him, and will grow up to resent us for it, starting the cycle of hate and violence all over again.
At this point in my mental flurry, a voice somewhere said, “Think, Kimberly. What’s the best way to teach big picture concepts?”
It was staring me in the face all along, so obvious that I completely missed it. Books. Those lovely pieces of escapism teach us each time we read them that there is more to the story than what we read in chapter one.
We might find out that the weird kid living under the stairs is a lot nicer than the couple that took him in.
We could learn that the anti-social woman covered in tattoos and piercings is not only a lot smarter than we thought, she’s also capable of righting a great wrong.
We might discover that sometimes winning the lottery means you’ve lost everything.
Each time you open the cover (or select the book on your Kindle, or press play on your iPod, or even listen to your grandmother start something with “Once upon a time”) you access a world different from the one you see every day, and you learn how to follow the narrative through different experiences, possibly ending up somewhere very different than you thought you’d go. You learn how someone else coped with a problem, giving you new tools to consider, and meaning you have a little less to be afraid of in this world.
Far from trivial, books are one of our best resources. Dr. Who put it best: “You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons we could have! Arm yourself.”
Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I need to get back to Facebook and promote books – the only weapons I could ever love.
Kimberly hopes for a day when people are too busy reading to kill each other anymore.