Thursday, August 08, 2013


I learned last night some potentially devastating news about friends (potentially because it's too early to know what it will really mean). It made me think of a piece I wrote during the Northern Virginia Writing Project summer institute last month. I feel like it still needs work but mostly says what I want it to. Here it is:

The radio comes on as I head to the gym and my morning begins with the story of asylum seekers – men, women, and children – taking to the sea as their leaky vessel sinks to the bottom. I watch the road but in my head I see open water full of tired, ragged, hungry families struggling to stay afloat, struggling to keep their children safe. I try to imagine what their lives had been like to make such a risk worthwhile. I’m sure their frustrations were much greater than a microwave with a door that tends to stick, Legos left all over the living room floor, packages from Amazon that sat out in the rain, or children who can’t find their cleats for soccer practice.

On the way back into the house I grab the plastic sleeve that contains the daily paper. As I drop it on the floor in the kitchen a headline catches my eye. Women being gang raped at protests in Cairo, Egypt. With just those few, big, bold-print words I can imagine these women believing so strongly in the possibilities for the future of their country, leaving their homes to join the throngs, raising their voices alongside their neighbors and friends. Then being quickly and quietly grabbed or lured just a bit away from those clamoring for freedom and democracy. Just a bit away from safety and into hell.

As I review the options on our TiVo the evening news rambles on in the corner of the screen. It catches my attention when I hear a bit about child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Images flash, thankfully small in that picture-in-picture spot, of young boys and girls, some my own daughters’ ages. Children holding intimidating weapons, weapons as big or bigger than themselves. I can’t help but think about their families, their mothers and fathers. Are they alive? Do they know what has happened to their child? Will they ever see each other again?

These intrusions on my daily life make me pause. I look around in each moment, at the road through our suburban neighborhood, at my dirty kitchen, at my cozy bedroom. I send up thanks for being born here, in this country, rather than in Indochina, Egypt, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I take just a moment to recognize how blessed I am for something over which I had no control – the place of my birth.

Others born here are not as lucky. One morning I learn that thousands of children age out of the foster care system in my state without being adopted. Half of them end up incarcerated, a quarter end up homeless. That gives a foster child only a 25% chance at any type of success. I try to envision their lives. Moving from foster home to foster home, adapting or not at each change. Being the new kid at school again and again. Wondering what they did wrong to not have a mom or dad who loves them unconditionally, not to have a stable home, not to have guarantees of meals, a place to sleep, the very basics.

A student talks about his baby brother’s hospital visits. It’s unclear how serious the problems are, at least when learned from the perspective of a six-year-old. Then he isn’t at school one day. We learn that his baby brother, only ten months old, died. Their mother had to be hospitalized after she collapsed, refusing to let go of his tiny body. A few teachers attend the funeral service, letting the Spanish words wash over us as we stare ahead at the grieving parents and siblings and the painfully small casket. Could this little one have had a chance if his family had health insurance? Would regular doctor visits have given him a better, longer life? Would an earlier diagnosis have given him more time on this earth?

Numerous friends on Facebook share an article, describing the SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) challenge. It encourages people to live for just a week only spending as much money on food and drink as they might receive on food stamps. That comes out to $4.50 per day. Per day. The next time I walk through the grocery store I try to picture what would go into my basket with that budget. I certainly wouldn’t need a cart. No fresh produce, much too expensive. No sodas or alcohol. Nothing organic. Even milk or cereal would be questionable.

I realize how lucky I am to have been born here and born into a family with enough. Lucky to have never questioned what I was going to eat, who would take care of me, whether or not I could see a doctor.

The next time the microwave door is stuck or I step on a Lego, I need to pause. To think, in that moment, of those so much less blessed than I. Of those, who simply by their birth, have so many more struggles and challenges. 

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