“I know of only one duty, and that is to love.” ~ Albert Camus.
I was brought up by pacifists. My father and his two brothers refused to be enlisted in World War II because their Christian beliefs told them to love their enemies, and not to kill their fellow man. They each had to go before a tribunal to defend their beliefs and their objection and instead they had to work in a ‘war-related’ effort. In my father’s case he worked as a social worker, having to delay his university goals until after the war. One brother was so eloquent that they allowed him to continue his studies.
So I grew up in a household where guns were abhorred, even toy guns. Of course as any mother knows, boys will be boys and they can turn any random object into a gun if they so desire. I attempted to impose the same rule with my own children, but my three sons could also be creative. And here we are in the 21st century. My grandson can now utilize weapons of mass destruction in any of a thousand virtual ways.
I have lived in the sunshine state for almost (in one day) exactly 45 years. It took me a while to appreciate the joys of South Florida. I was missing Jamaica; I was missing mountains; I missed the mountains of Wales. I enjoyed the warmth after having spent three years in nursing school in the UK, but the summers were brutal, especially if your only air conditioner was a wall unit in one bedroom (the other in the living room was too inefficient and expensive to run). It would only be when visitors came, and I found interesting places to take them that I began to find the area more enjoyable. Beaches were never my thing, but the Everglades, that was something else.
Over time I realized that it is human nature not to be happy with what you have. Whenever I traveled, people would tell me how lucky I was to live in South Florida: the weather; the beaches. If I was visiting England they would apologize for the rain, the cold, the grey and I would respond that I loved it! It made a change from nothing but blue skies, heat and humidity! But I had to correct my thinking, and appreciate what I had.
It has been harder of late to relish living in Florida in particular, and in the USA in general. Over the past several years, we have seen a society divided, where differences are exploited instead of celebrated. Disinformation has been utilized to take advantage of people’s ignorance, and has allowed conspiracy theories to take over from common sense, leading to suspicion and distrust. Bias and bigotry are encouraged, with disastrous consequences. Maternal mortality rates (pregnancy related deaths) in the US have surged by 40%, with Black mothers dying at a rate almost three times higher than White mothers. And the US is second only to Mexico in its mortality rate.
And the children. Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for American youth. The other day, after the tragic school shooting in Nashville, while a journalist described the tragedy, a songbird cheerfully sang in the background. It was an odd juxtaposition, the somber news with a beautiful soundtrack. And the image that sprang to my mind was the canary in the coalmine. Years ago, before OSHA and other Health and Safety agencies ensuring the safety of workers, coalminers would carry a canary down into the coal mines. In the presence of the deadly carbon monoxide, the birds would show early signs of distress, thus alerting the workers to the danger. As recently as the 1990’s they still accompanied miners into those dark dangerous places miles below the surface of the earth, even though they had modern devices to detect the threat. The birds had become companions, cheerful sounds to brighten the dismal environment.
Are we paying attention to the canaries above ground? Our children (or grandchildren) have ‘active shooter drills’ as part of their curriculum. And you cannot promise that this would never happen here. So far this year there have been 67 mass shootings in the US. You can’t even get over the horror of one before another takes over the news cycle. And that isn’t counting the deaths by gun violence that take place every day but don’t make it to the news. It is a travesty.
I recently watched part of a documentary series set in the 60s. They showed the power of peaceful protest as Americans of every class, color and age marched in protest against the Vietnam war. Even soldiers showed up to protest. Hundreds of thousands of people, all across America, and it was powerful. I believe it was Margaret Mead who said ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ At a time when teachers are being told what they can teach; when a small group of noisy individuals can disrupt the educational process by complaining that works of art are pornographic; when history is being rewritten to make the reader (or at least one group of readers) not feel uncomfortable, it is more important than ever to protest.
It was John Lewis who coined the phrase about making ‘good trouble’. We may not know how effective we are, but even if we are the lonely songbird warning of trouble ahead, we need to sing out loud. Our children are being miseducated, discriminated against, and killed while we cross our fingers and hope it doesn’t happen here.
All week long I have been hearing the song from my childhood ringing in my ears: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.’ Where were you when war was declared upon the innocents of America? What did you do when politicians did nothing to make this world a safer place for you and me? When last did you call your congressman or senator as a bill is about to be passed in Florida to allow ‘permitless carry’? We must speak out, we must do something, or we lose the war. Thankfully, there are many good people who dedicate their lives to the struggle. Unfortunately, it is usually because they were personally affected and have to live their tragedy every day.
This Friday morning I hope you can find some way to be involved, even if it is by sending ‘a money’ as we say in Jamaica. We can’t do nothing.