After #Orlando: A Letter From Mother to Son

It’s 4 am and a crescent of light falls near your left temple, as a whir of chilled air fills the room. You are snuggled next to me–your slight, warm body curved round my own–and I hear the sweet sounds of your suckling; the rhythm, so delicate, nearly lulls me to sleep.

I know when you’re finished, you’ll sigh, turn your head to the side, and push your lower lip out in tender protest. I will carefully remove the pillows from beneath your head and lift you toward me as our breath becomes one. And then, stepping from bed, I’ll carry you silently to your crib while patting your back in time with the beat of my heart.

In those last moments before sleep, you will hold your arms to your chest and then, like honey from its dipper, peel them away in one languid movement, leaving them prone at your side.

This sweet image, of your wide-open arms, is what stays with me as I hear of our nation’s latest tragedy.

I think of them and imagine a night of dancing and fun cut short by a hailstorm of lead. I think of them and imagine innocents begging for life, folding themselves ever so small, attempting to disappear. I think of them and imagine terrorized souls hiding in bathrooms and a/c vents, cowering beneath tables, chairs, and bodies. I think of them and imagine receiving a text, as Mina Justice received from her son, Eddie:

Mommy I love you

In the club they shooting  

Trapp in the bathroom

Call police

Im gonna die

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In these wee hours, I think of your wide-open arms, your innocence, your precious life and feel a familiar warmth on my cheeks–a warmth that solemnly whispers:

You can’t protect him, no matter how hard you try.

I wish I could tell you no harm will come to you, sweet boy. That as long as you choose love and light you will be saved from hatred and darkness. But none of us are afforded such certainty.

Not. One.

There will always be those who choose the strident siren of violence over the softer strum of dialogue. Who find justification for hostility and intolerance in the pages of sacred texts and the name of sacred beings. Who mistake fanaticism for faith and forget the human element of humanity. There will always be those whose very existence is in direct opposition to your own.

And in moments of chaos and grief, when it’s easier to hate, I beg you: please don’t. Choose love. Be stretched by it, dear one, and grow in it.

Every parent’s worst nightmare is losing a child. I know that in a way I didn’t before.

Whether lost through accident or malicious intent, outliving one’s children goes against the laws of nature and much higher laws of heart and soul. It is unnatural, unthinkable…

and simply
unbearable.

Today, 50 sets of parents are living that nightmare.

Today, 50 sets of parents are remembering their child’s sweet slumber.

Today, 50 sets of parents are remembering their child’s wide-open arms.

F. I. F. T. Y.

So, this evening, as I lay you in sleep’s warm embrace, I’ll pray for those affected by such senseless brutality and those with the power and privilege to stop it. And then I will pray for you, my sweet. For your life. For your heart. And your wide-open arms.

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To Grieving Fathers on Father’s Day

Whether you began here

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or here,

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your goal was this

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and eventually this.

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But something went terribly wrong.

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So you’ve spent more time here

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and here

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than you planned.

When they call to ask about her,

you tell them.

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When they neglect to ask about you,

you think, It’s okay. I’m okay.

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And when they say things like:

“God has a plan”

“Time heals all wounds”

“Everything happens for a reason”

you remember they say it for themselves.

Because…

there. are. no. words.

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You try to give her this

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and this,

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but nothing helps.

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And you find yourself here

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caught between these.

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You remember life before,

when this word was everywhere

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instead of this one.

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And the two of you looked like this

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instead of this.

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Wherever you are on your journey…

whether you’ve chosen this

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or this,

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I hope you’ve found a way to honor your babies

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and each other.

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*All images are public domain images, unless marked with a Blooming Spiders URL stamp*

Dear Uterus: You Are a Murderous Bastard

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In my head, murderous bastard just isn’t right. I mean, certainly there are more eloquent ways to express my hatred of your serial killing, your incompetence when nurturing a fertilized ovum, and your obvious disdain for human life. But nothing comes, so murderous bastard it is.

In days past, I looked down at women who were in the place I now find myself. I thought how very sad it must be to be them. How very unfortunate not to make lemonade out of the lemons so viciously hurled at us in the forms of infertility, miscarriage and neonatal death. But today I think lemonade is overrated. And anger? It’s pretty liberating.

I’ve always been the one who sought out the right thing and hiked the high road. And I’ve prided myself on the fact that even in the most soul searing of circumstances, I haven’t lost my shit. I guess I thought that keeping myself together meant success, but what it really meant was an excuse not to feel as deeply as one needs in order to heal. Because something happens when a thing or person is broken, there are shards that go missing which forever change the shape of the traumatized vessel. And you realize, then and there, that wholeness takes on an entirely different meaning.

You, dear uterus, have one job to do in your miserable, pear-shaped life and that is to oversee the development of an embryo and fetus. Sadly, you have failed three heartbreaking times. In any other circumstance, you would have received a sincere come to Jesus, been put on leave, or been relieved of your duties. Because obviously, if you can’t perform, what are you really worth? But I held on, hoping you’d redeem yourself. Hoping that I wouldn’t have to hate you the way I have and do now.

After baby loss number 3, I sat as judge and jury. It would have been easy for me to give you death. I mean, you meet the basic requirements of a serial killer, don’t you: “someone who murders more than three victims one at a time in a relatively short interval”? I thought of what it’d be like to push the button that sent the needle into your arm. But drifting off to sleep never to wake was too good for you. You needed hard time. You needed to realize what your neglect caused. And who isn’t here because of it.

I was all too happy to lead you to the cell where you’d be left to think on your offenses. And when I locked you inside and swallowed the key I thought everything had been made right: you were where you should be and I had a second chance. What I didn’t realize was that since that day, I’ve been locked inside that cell with you. I’ve been my own prisoner. And I’ve been yours, as well.

Life gets in the way of life sometimes. It certainly has in my case. I did what I was supposed to: I fell in love, got married and tried to start a family. I played by the rules, but I didn’t win any jackpot in the form of sweet-smelling lumps of flesh whose giggles are like jumper cables to the heart. I didn’t win anything short of loss and heartache. And I’ve felt angry about that. I have.

I feel the anger rise when I read another story of an unwanted child who was beaten, neglected or murdered. I feel it when I meet women who don’t question that their pregnancies will be successful, who don’t know what I know. I feel it when I’m accused of being selfish when refusing to watch a video of a friend’s newborn or when I can’t drag myself to another baby shower. I feel it when I’m the only non-mother in a circle of women complaining about what a bitch motherhood is. I feel it nearly every day.

Today is laced with thoughts of Jasmine French and the film Blue Jasmine. In it she declares, “…there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.” This is me taking to the streets. This is me screaming. This is me:

Broken. Barren. Beyond.

I don’t know what the future holds, dear uterus, but if you ever find yourself in a position to hold life again, would you please hold it?

Because it’d be nice not to hate you anymore.

It really would.

What forgiveness is

“No one’s need to be heard is so great that they should kill.”

– Jo Berry, Beyond Right & Wrong:  Stories of Justice and Forgiveness

But we were all too scared

I. Forgive. You.

Three little words.

One immense impact.

We have all been forgiven and been asked to forgive.  It is as vital to life as the beats of our hearts.  But I wonder: how far is its reach?  Does it slip into the back pews of churches?  Does it sleep in the annals of international cities? Does it accompany a murderer as he walks toward his death?  Does it take refuge in places we dare never go?

I have forgiven many things: the heartrending and the petty, the soul-stealing and the trivial.  But I have never forgiven another human being for killing someone I love.  I have never seen scarlet ribbons descend from their bodies or heard their terror-filled screams. I have never been put in that place and pray I never will.  But the people in the documentary Beyond Right & Wrong:  Stories of Justice and Forgiveness have.  They exhale the loss and pain of those whose loved ones were taken, and inhale the redemptive power of forgiveness.

Watch Beyond Right & Wrong for free

Jo and Pat

From left to right:  Jo Berry, Robi Damelin and Patrick Magee

From left to right: Jo Berry; Robi Damelin, spokesperson for The Parents Circle Tel Aviv; and Patrick Magee.  Image via http://www.buildingbridgesforpeace.org

Jo Berry, founder of Building Bridges for Peace, is one such person.  Her father, Sir Anthony Berry, was one of five killed in the October 12, 1984 bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England.  Patrick Magee, the IRA soldier who planted the bomb, served 14 years in prison and was released in 1999 as part of the Good Friday Peace Agreement.  The two met for the first time in November 2000.

Pat has said this about Jo:

Well, one thing that, um, hit me, uh, after…I couldn’t tell you when exactly this happened.  You talked about your father and I got more a picture.  He was a human being, who had shaped you.  In other words, um, all the things that I admire in you came, in some measure, from your father <sil>. That means this was a fine human being <sil>.  And I killed him.

Berry and Magee have since shared a platform upwards of 100 times.  They work together to encourage non-violence and to opt for dialog and reconciliation versus revenge and retaliation.  While their interactions are not easy, Berry is learning “to give up blame and choose empathy.”

Bassam and Rami

Bassam on the left.  Rami on the right.  Image via www.the guardian.com

Bassam on the left. Rami on the right. Image via http://www.theguardian.com

Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian Muslim, and Rami Elhanan, an Israeli Jew and son of a Holocaust survivor, both lost their daughters.  Abir Aramin was standing outside her school when she was shot by an Israeli soldier.  She was 10.  Smadar Elhanan was walking to get books with two friends in Jerusalem when she crossed paths with two suicide bombers.  She was 14.

Image courtesy of Rami Elhanan via www.972mag.com

Image courtesy of Rami Elhanan via http://www.972mag.com

Their fathers are now members of Combatants for Peace, a movement of Palestinians and Israelis who were once dedicated fighters and now seek to end the conflict through dialogue and non-violence.

“We have both lost our daughters,” Rami says.  “We both paid the highest price possible.  Our blood is the same color.  Our pain in exactly the same pain and our tears are just as bitter.”

Bassam adds:

Abir’s murder could have led me down the easy path of hatred and vengeance, but for me there was no return from dialogue and non-violence. After all, it was one Israeli soldier who shot my daughter, but one hundred former Israeli soldiers who built a garden in her name at the school where she was murdered.

Bassam and Rami remain friends and have worked on a project documenting their lives, losses and steps toward peace.  It is called Within the Eye of the Storm: When Enemies Turn to Brothers.

Beata and Emmanuel

Beata Mukangarambe is a Rwandan genocide survivor; her five children are not.

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“One day, a man came to see me…. He said, ‘Let me tell you something that makes me sad. I am the man who killed your children. Can you forgive me?’”

That man was Emmanuel Bamporiki.  He had just been released from prison after serving seven years for crimes committed in the genocide.  He spoke of his own personal pain.  Of being haunted by those he killed.  Of hearing the voices of children screaming for their mothers as they were chased down by men wielding machetes.

Beata collapsed.

Emmanuel went to beg her forgiveness three more times.  When she finally accepted these were her words to him:

“I have forgiven you.  I will never be angered by you again.  If you have a bicycle, do give me a lift.  If I have something that you do not have, I’ll share.  That is all.”

The lesson

Forgiveness does not erase the past.  It does not equal permission and does not mean you agree with the offender or his offense.  It means that you release him from judgment and release yourself from bitterness, hatred, and revenge.  Forgiveness is recognition that among our human complexities is our ability to do both good and evil, house both good and evil.  But that evil does not make us inhuman.  It makes us imperfect.

When I wake in the morning, I remind myself of who I could be:

I could be Israeli with eyes the color of sea glass and waist-length hair.  I could be a skinhead.  I could be a Tutsi child with legs like dandelion stems and a swollen belly.  I could be a terrorist ready to die for my cause.  I could be your sister, your mother, your enemy.  I could be you.  And you?  You could be me.

And if instead of backing away in fear, I walk forward, extend my hand and place it over your heart, its rhythm would feel the same as mine would to you.

Two hearts.  One heart.

One human heart.

With one message: forgive.

 

Sources:

Building Bridges for Peace.  WordPress. 2014. Web. 28 July 2014. <http://www.buildingbridgesforpeace.org&gt;

Spottiswoode, R. (Director), & Singh, L. (Producer). (2012). Beyond Right & Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness [Documentary]. United States: Article 19 Films.

Within the Eye of the Storm. n.p. n.d.  Web. 2 August 2014.  <http://www.withineyeofstorm.com&gt;