I remember when my brother and sister and I were young, we’d spend hours writing and performing plays. We’d raid closets for old clothes to use as costumes, make facial hair from construction paper and tape, and finally be ready to present our masterpiece. We did this with cousins on those magical Christmas Eve evenings when all of us came together for what would probably be the only time that year, banging away on the old piano in the basement, appropriating things to use for our sets, using reams of that old tractor feed computer paper.
I’m always reminded of this watching one of the opening scenes of Moulin Rouge. There’s the crude scenery, the writer, the goat rodeo… the large man falling through the ceiling.
Ok, that part never happened.
I think my dad has video somewhere of one of our plays, the Shrieking of Sarah I believe it was called, about some terrible aunt coming to visit a family. To this day I don’t know where this idea came from, we have many aunts but none that are particular shriekers.
The troupe Ewan McGregor falls in with in this movie, when he goes to Paris, is a group of people who believe first in freedom, beauty, truth and love. And I think, given the harsh reality of our world, the lack of choices many of us face; choosing only one of these is often enough. Though it doesn’t feel that way at all.
I watched a piece tonight on the news, I’d avoided it all day. But then I went to picture day in a gym that was about 90 degrees, then I walked through the hallways with all the other parents and all the kids, met the teachers, found the lockers and the desks. I’m frankly surprised it wasn’t raining inside, it was that humid.
So I felt brave and like I could do hard things and when it came on, even when the news anchor said, “this is difficult to watch, but it should be watched”, I sat up straight and raised my chin a little to make myself feel brave, and I watched.
The first shot was of a small and lifeless body on the beach, waves lapping around his little feet, buffeting his soft black hair. This was Aylan. He was a refugee fleeing Syria. His mother and his five year old brother drowned too. And Aylan was only three, only becoming the person he would have had been, had he lived longer, been born in another place, in another time.
That is almost 2/3 of the population of my small village. Escalade drivers and beater drivers, parents and not, elderly folks. That is 2/3 of us gone, men, WOMEN, CHILDREN. That is a ghost town.
More than 2,000 people have drowned this year attempting that same crossing, in that same reckless bid for freedom, for safety. I’ve written about this before and my knowledge of what it takes to put your family, who cannot swim, into a small raft with about fifty other people and then try to cross THE SEA has not changed. I know nothing about that kind of desperation, I get all panicky when we run out of milk and I’m not dressed yet.
There was another story showing thousands of people pushing onto a train, there were small and confused little girls, old women holding baby boys in only a diaper, young men. They fought and they pushed and the pleaded and they begged for a place on a train. They didn’t even know where that train was bound.
That is desperation friends.
That is anywhere but here.
Those people who believed in freedom, beauty, truth and love? They were us one time, a long time ago. We were the ones who stood, militant, in a diaper refusing to take a nap we didn’t feel was needed. We were the ones who created drawings, paintings, stories, sketches, the ones who sang without fear, who wrote and proudly acted out our own creations. We told the truth. We were not tarnished with the dirt and the dust and the heartache of this world.
There is this old story that is not corroborated by outside sources, but apparently I one time slapped my mom’s thigh and asked her if I would have fat thighs like her when I grew up? That was the truth as I saw it (it is important to state that it was not actually TRUE).
But another truth was Ave coming into the living room at the tail end of the story of the people on the train, when they realized the train had stopped in Hungary and they were being herded to a refugee camp. When a brave and beautiful girl like my Kaia looked at the camera and said, I am scared. We are scared. Why won’t they just let us go? The reported asked her, why are you crying? And she just shook her head and walked away.
Ave wanted to know, why do they have to get off the train?
I said, because the people in the place where the train stopped say that they do.
Ave said, well that is stupid if they aren’t at the place they meant to be yet. I would get back on that train.
And we believed in love. We made friends with people we didn’t know five minutes ago, we smiled, we put our whole hearts out there be it the first day of school or visiting a new church or walking down the aisle at the grocery store. We had mad love affairs in the form of looking at each other in the lunch line and passing notes in the hallway.
When did we become so afraid of freedom, to prefer the bars of our little cages? Our mortgaged or rented houses? Our churches? Our little cubicles at the office? When did it become preferable to find ourselves in a place that we don’t want to be, but where we are too afraid to leave?
When did we learn to forget to see beauty? I spent a lot of time today listening to different operas, I am expanding my musical tastes. I looked at the sheet music when available, enjoyed the way the voices of the singers seemed to move right into my head, pushing out a headache.
We don’t tell the truth all the time. We say people like Donald Trump do, but he doesn’t. Donald Trump is the school bully that never grew up, he is the child whose mother never taught him to respect anyone, not even himself.
We turn the channel when a story about a three year old refugee found drowned on a beach in Turkey comes on. We cannot bear it, we tell ourselves. We can though. We can bear truth, and when we bear truth we become witness to another wrong, and we become a little more powerful, a little smarter, a little more able and willing to change a world in desperate need of change.
In all it’s strange forms, in the husband/wife form (the 80/20), in the mother of mouthy adolescent daughters form, in the my dog is old and I wonder if this summer will be his last form. In singing a song that seems impossible and being cheered on by an old friend, and becoming not afraid.
And when we accept that we are creatures made for freedom, for beauty and truth, we accept that love is sitting in a chair in our air conditioned living room and bearing witness to the body of a little boy in the sand. And we can cry a little, because it is all of those things, it is freedom, it is beauty, and it is truth. Our tears are the meringue on the love.
And then we let that love change us in strange and radical ways. We argue with family members on facebook, we write columns that are almost seditious. We find that as the ice around our hearts melts a flame is ignited again.
Suddenly I am that girl deciding that I don’t need a nap, telling my mother no.
Suddenly, I am brave.
Suddenly, I want to help.
Suddenly, I see the last moments of Aylan’s mother, as she tries and fails to hold the small, frail bodies of her children, smashed over and over again in the waves of the sea, and she cannot swim, and she could not afford to buy a life jacket, not even one. And she realizes that they will not escape.
And so the world must return to love.
Open your doors, the ones in your heart too, let this broken world in.
Don’t hide behind the adult you, the one who does what others say, the one who does this whole life thing the “right away”.
I love you still, I will lead the way. Don’t be afraid.