Recently, I heard someone read the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire. It moved me to the very marrow of my bones. It made me understand, on a level that I never had before, why people come to this country.
The majority of Americans have been very lucky and have never experienced the feeling that if you stay home, the place you have always lived, then you will surely die. We have never had things explode all around us. We have never lived under the imminent threat of gang rape or abduction or starvation. Most of us know what it is to feel relatively safe.
This poem gives a voice to refugees. It’s a voice that you have never heard before. It’s insight that all of us need to have. Before you say, “Go back to where you come from,” please read this poem.
Read “Home” by Warsan Shire on Genius. (And make sure you read the whole thing! There are a few ads in the middle that you need to scroll past.)
So, yeah, this happened: Some anonymous person paid 450 million for Salvator Mundi, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci. A painting of Jesus, Savior of the World. How outraged he would have been.
To put it in context, that’s more than the annual gross domestic product of Tonga, Micronesia, Palau and Kiribati. If it were francs, that would be more than the value of all the Jewish property confiscated in France during World War II. Just one of the World Trade Center towers, if it were still standing, would weigh 450 million kilograms. The average American will earn less than 0.25 percent of that in his or her lifetime. That many years ago, the earth was seeing the first transition from vegetable to animal life.
But here’s the statistic that upsets me the most. For 1/5th of that price, we could entirely eliminate homelessness in America. Which means we could eliminate it here, and in probably a dozen third world countries as well.
Instead, some anonymous person bought a painting. 468 square inches of canvas. That’s $961,538.46 per square inch, on a planet where 795 million people are starving, 21.3 million are refugees and half of Puerto Rico is still in the dark. If there is a hell, this person should go there.
Any civilization that allows this level of income inequality is circling the drain. There is absolutely no justification for this, and I’m saying this as a person who thinks the arts should be supported. There are limits. Or there should be. When the world deteriorates to this level, we certainly could use a savior.
The only thing that would make this situation more outrageous and insane would be if it had been a painting of Jesus expelling the money changers from the temple.
I am always fascinated by that moment when two people interact. It’s like an intersection of fate. Each brings different things to the table; different life experience, different perspectives. In every encounter, it is almost as if another entity is briefly formed as a result of the mixing of two unique individuals.
If I could witness just one encounter, I would love to see Malala Yousafzai meet with Donald Trump. Talk about a study in contrasts. Malala is one of my personal heroes. She’s only 19, but she is still who I want to be when I grow up. She is intelligent, dignified, and a pure embodiment of what is good and decent in this world.
Trump, on the other hand… well, I think I’ve made my feelings crystal clear about him in past posts. A meeting of these two would be the closest one could get to good vs. evil outside of the movie theater. I’d be craving popcorn.
It would be a lot more enjoyable to have a ringside seat for this epic meeting if Trump had a conscience and a moral compass. If so, he’d probably turn into a pillar of salt. That would be enough to make me go on a low sodium diet.
At the very least, he wouldn’t be able to look Malala in the eye. This amazing young lady isn’t someone you can grab. She’s not someone you can discount, either. She has seen and done too much.
In fact, she has more life experience than Trump has ever had while sitting in his gilded tower, spewing his hatred and racism. Her biggest claim to fame isn’t some reality show. It’s real life.
Further, I don’t think Trump would be comfortable in the presence of Malala’s quiet dignity. Trump is neither quiet nor dignified. He’s all bluster and braggadocio. Malala would probably politely listen while he held forth about himself, but she wouldn’t be particularly impressed.
In contrast, every word Malala would speak would be about others. She would be talking about the importance of education to someone who is functionally illiterate. She’s also about truth and compassion, which are words that Trump can barely pronounce.
Malala is also a Muslim that Trump would be hard-pressed to turn into a caricature of violence. Her very existence counters his entire belief system. Malala could very well be the bucket of water that we throw on the witch that is Trump. He would melt away to nothing. He has no substance.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a conscience or a moral compass, so he’d probably say something condescending, dismiss her out of hand, cut the meeting short, and never realize he had just crossed paths with one of the most amazing people of our time.
I’ll leave you now with Malala Yousafzai’s statement on President Trump’s latest executive order on refugees:
“I am heartbroken that today President Trump is closing the door on children, mothers and fathers fleeing violence and war. I am heartbroken that America is turning its back on a proud history of welcoming refugees and immigrants — the people who helped build your country, ready to work hard in exchange for a fair chance at a new life.
I am heartbroken that Syrian refugee children, who have suffered through six years of war by no fault of their own, are singled-out for discrimination.
I am heartbroken for girls like my friend Zaynab, who fled wars in three countries — Somalia, Yemen and Egypt — before she was even 17. Two years ago she received a visa to come to the United States. She learned English, graduated high school and is now in college studying to be a human rights lawyer.
Zaynab was separated from her little sister when she fled unrest in Egypt. Today her hope of being reunited with her precious sister dims.
In this time of uncertainty and unrest around the world, I ask President Trump not to turn his back on the world’s most defenseless children and families.”
Unless you live in a cave somewhere, you know what’s going on in Aleppo, Syria right now. And if you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty darned helpless about it. People are being slaughtered and I’m looking at my empty guest room. I’d take them all in if I could. I’d stack ‘em up like cordwood. At least they’d be warm and not have to worry about the world exploding around them.
But it’s not that simple. I wish it were. Contrary to what the Republicans would have you believe, it is extremely difficult to sponsor a refugee. I’ve looked into it.
This is the same level of helplessness I felt during the slaughter in Rwanda. And it’s the same frustration I continue to feel about the Chinese occupation of Tibet. No government seems to be willing to step up and do something about this atrocity. Everyone is looking the other way. People are starving. Children are dying. Women are committing suicide rather than be raped. Men are being blown to bits. And even the UN, despite various resolutions, seems loathe to intervene.
I did find a little comfort in this fundraiser for The White Helmets. This group of heroes has been saving lives in Syria, on a purely volunteer basis, since 2013. They’ve put themselves in the path of the bombs to pull people out of the rubble, and according to their website, have saved 73,530 lives to date. The stories on this website will break your heart.
They risk their lives every single day, while I stare at my empty guest room. I feel sick. And while raising money for this amazing group of people doesn’t seem like nearly enough to do, it’s all I can think of to do at this time. Won’t you help? Even as little as $5.00 will buy them a pair of safety goggles to protect their eyes. That’s better than sitting here watching the tears flow from mine.
I just donated enough for 5 goggles. I wish I could afford to contribute enough money for a gas mask or a defibrillator. I wish I could do more. But together, we can do a lot more than just sit and wring our hands. That counts for something, right?
I’d much rather that you donate to the cause above, but after you’ve done that, if the spirit moves you, check out my refreshingly positive book for these depressingly negative times.http://amzn.to/2cCHgUu
As hard as this is to believe, sometimes Facebook is the source of great wisdom. Today I saw this post, from a woman named Lorelle Saxena. It was so beautifully written and brilliantly explained that I had to share it with all of you. I attempted to contact Lorelle to get permission to post it here, but had no luck. I hope the fact that it has already been shared 24,000 times on Facebook will mean that she won’t mind if I share it one more time.
I’m done with polite, apolitical vaguebooking right now. There are so many smugly hateful messages on my Facebook feed, and I’m not going to get into it with each and every one of you, but here is the bottom line:
There is no reason, not one single reason, why I deserve shelter, food, stability, safety, health, or your regard any more than any given Syrian refugee. Not one reason. My home, my education, my business; the way I look, the way I talk; the fact that I come home to a safe, whole, healthy family every day–every one of those things is a privilege that I fell into by the random circumstance of being born in this country to parents who valued academic achievement. I, or you, could have just as easily been born in Syria, or Burkina Faso, or Afghanistan. Do you really think that you’re a different kind of human being than the refugees? Do you think your privilege is earned?
I know: you’ve worked hard for what you have. I have, too. But have we worked harder than the refugees worked for the lives that were destroyed? Do we love our children more than they do; would we grieve harder if a civil war took them away from us? And how long do you believe it would take for a bomb to destroy everything safe about your life?
Compared to most people in the world, you and I are rich with privilege, much of it just because we were lucky enough to be born in a country fat with it. I woke up early this morning and made organic, whole-grain muffins for my son, then dressed him in warm clothes, put sunscreen on his little face, strapped and buckled him into his bike seat and rode along peaceful streets to deliver him at his warm, nurturing preschool. There were so many levels on which I was able to protect him. Every breath of this morning was a privilege. Meanwhile millions of children who months ago had bedrooms and dinner tables and doctors and schools are sleeping directly on the ground, their parents unable to secure shelter or food for them, much less healthcare or education.
And no, that is not your fault. But that’s not the same as it not being our responsibility. We have everything we need and then so much on top of that, and we can choose to exemplify to our own children one of two courses of action: we can open our clutched fists and share with our fellow humans all the abundance that exists here–or we can hoard it, greedy and bloated and fearful.
These are families like yours. Thinking they might have connections to terrorist factions is as rational as thinking you might be a terrorist because Timothy McVeigh was American. Half of the refugees are children. What is it in you that can close your eyes to other human beings, especially human beings that are small and hungry and cold?
I’m not asking you to give half of everything you have to help them, or to turn your backyard into a tent city, or to donate to causes that support efforts to protect these very vulnerable people. I’m asking you not to hate them because they need something you have. I’m asking you to recognize that the fear being built around the refugees is less about American security and more about American greed. I’m asking you to be a human being that understands every human being has basic needs and that the lucky among us can afford to share our luck to ease suffering. I’m asking you to stop thinking, posting, politicizing around the idea that we just can’t help before we’ve taken care of our own.
Because there is no such thing as “our own.” Every human is our own. Every hungry child, grieving mother, frightened husband, weary grandmother is our own. Nobody gets to pretend our world is a different world from the world that creates civil wars and bombs and hunger. We are all toeing this same precarious, shifting tightrope of a life. Anyone can fall at any time. All there is to catch us is each other.