Teri Orr: Suffer little children
It feels almost all the time now we are at the intersection of despair and darkness when we want to be at the corner of wonder and appreciation. Never in the history of history has so much information been accessible to us to decipher and dissect. There is so much noise passing for news it makes perfect sense not to want to engage in any of it anymore.
And that is what the noisemakers count on.
But in the past weeks, what has been leaking out about shelters along the southern borders of this country is what one pundit called “A modern day Trail of Tears.” We, our country, so yes we, are tearing children away from their parents, forcibly putting them in detention centers. That has been confirmed and witnessed and reported upon by credible news sources for a few weeks. We, our country, are doing this in an attempt to stop people, many many many, who are trying to escape some form of persecution in another country, to find safety in ours. They thought coming here would be safe. Because that is what/who America has always been. We make room for the tired, huddled masses and give them refuge and in turn, they give us their commitment to help create a remarkable country. We are filled with folks who journeyed here from all over the world who came to raise their families and contribute to their individual communities.
It was my grandparent’s parent’s story and most likely yours.
After World War II and all the atrocities the world learned about — mostly after the war (media coverage was so limited then, as was the ability to quickly share and verify stories) the words “Never Again” became a mantra. I wasn’t part of that — of those generations. My entry came when the men came home from the war and created families in a time of such abundance, in a time of great peace and a certain numbing by a country that was booming. We Baby Boomers appeared.
Our war was Vietnam and it was televised. That coverage was part of what ended the war. Because for the first time in history we were seeing the horrors (admittedly through a filtered lens) in our own living rooms every night. And seeing those men — mostly men — on the news dying rallied us to protest in a way not seen since the tea went over the side of the ships in Boston. Young men were dying for a war old men were manipulating. It took more than one president to wrestle a messy conclusion and end the war in a technicolor, helicopters-escaping moment, made for television.
After that, wars were fought in skirmishes around the world — the Gulf War and for decades our confusing presence in Afghanistan. And in the inner cities of this country. There were issues of drugs and unbalanced punishments for dealing them or even carrying them that led to our jails and prisons being overburdened and created a private industry boom in the creation of more prisons to house low-level offenders. The War moved inside our borders for years, and has stretched on now for decades.
I don’t know exactly when the Information Age started but it certainly blew up around 2000 when the internet became accessible to millions of people and the news became not just nightly or morning, noon and night — but nonstop. And our ability to stay informed in a thoughtful reasoned way became either a full-time job or impossible. Soon after — just a few years ago — Americans of all ages and varied socioeconomic means had the power of former supercomputers in their hands. And we became obsessed by, and slaves to, technology.
So now the chatter never ends and news cycles last 24 hours. And the ability to focus and filter news is generally agreed to be — impossible.
Which brings me to the images and the issues at hand. The stuff so outrageous we should be moved to outrage certainly — but also to action. Decades ago there was a movie starring Meryl Streep called “Sophie’s Choice.” It had many stories entwined. But the title came from the decision Streep’s character, a young woman entering Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland was forced to make. She had two children and she was forced to give one up — if she wanted to keep one with her. She chose her daughter to be sent to a gas chamber and kept her son. I was a young mother when the film came out with a son and daughter of my own. That impossible choice haunted me long after the film won Streep an Academy Award. It haunts me still.
Right now at the border of this country, every day children are being ripped away from their parents and forced to live in camps without them. Traumatized with lifetime scars now and confusion about a country that was supposed to be a refuge.
We have to be better than this. There is no other time to stand up if we cannot stand up for the children. This shouldn’t be a party issue or religious issue except in the way all the major religions hold sacred a version of the Golden Rule. Religious leaders, in fact, are crossing differences and uniting in calling upon political leaders to stop the separation and reunite families. This is about human decency and it is about a crossroad of who we are and what we hold sacred. We can either protest and write and call and be mad as hell or we can be numbed by the constant noise of the news and turn away. I don’t know when I felt such clarity that this is the crossroad — the intersection — of human decency and despot. To ignore the cries of the children is simply to lose our souls. The plight of those little children is all I can think about this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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