Summer Reading :: In Memory of Elie Wiesel

Auschwitz-Birkenau-Börner

I placed a copy of Night on my teenager’s desk.
Summer reading, I said.
You mean I have to read it?

Quick parenting decision – split-second judgment call.
No, I told her, not wanting to be the hand
that forces eyes open. But.

It’s a hard book but an important book. 
Back to the kitchen to finish cooking us dinner.
It will change your life, I called back.

Will she read it? Fourteen in a few months.
Also a Libra like she is, Elie Wiesel was fifteen
when he arrived at Auschwitz.

I was fifteen the summer I spent
in Spain. Only a few photos remain from that trip,
including a swastika on a brick wall in Toledo.

Sixteen when I first read Night.
Mark Gerstein’s Holocaust class, the one when
I dreamed of basements and lost babies.

In every generation, may there be movement.
“I marvel at the resilience of the Jewish people…
No other people has such an obsession with memory.”

And so I see myself
placing this paperback on her desk.
Resilience. Obsession. Memory. My people. Her people.

We all have to find our people
in this world. Maybe this is what I’m trying to say
to her without telling her a thing,

without sliding into parental lecture,
the kind she’s come to expect from me.
All that time I thought she was glazing over

until she did her final seventh-grade project
about why she’s a feminist.
That’s when I realized

she’s paying attention.
The book might sit there untouched
for months, or she may crack it open

and come to us in tears some July night,
scared or sad or both, asking why and how.
I worry sometimes that so many Buzzfeed headlines

without substance, click click click,
one awful story after another, kids growing up
with a Trump presidency an actual real thing

will have the opposite effect
and instead of galvanizing will numb
and dilute the impact of so much death and hatred.

Where is the balance between providing comfort
and not cocooning our children
inside privilege that perpetuates injustice?

I placed the book on her desk, then came here
to write a poem. To listen into the night,
the night with its millions of voices,

the voices that began climbing out my mouth
was I was her age, his age, this age,
in the age of awakening, the age of rage

and poetry and never forget and never again,
the age when I began choking on the voices
and losing my own,

the age of doing what I can as a Jewish mother
to make sure she knows that her voice
is both the most and least important,

both her sword and her mother line,
hers to toss back in time and throw to the night
to see what ghosts catch and return it

in the call and response that’s been
singing itself to sleep for centuries
and will keep doing so, unresting

until we’ve circled back to all the lives,
all the lives that couldn’t be saved the first time.
Waiting and waiting, in the world to come, for the living.

::

In Memory of Elie Wiesel, ז״ל
September 30, 1928 – July 2, 2016

We Were Strangers Once

half-mast
Almost exactly one year ago, same-sex marriage became legal nationwide. I know some LGBT folks were less than thrilled about this “mainstreaming” — as if by gaining the same rights as heterosexual couples, something vital was diluted or absorbed by convention. I disagreed; I want my cake and to eat it, too, thank you very much.

Something I keep coming back to since Sunday is this: We will always be other. No matter how equal by law, no matter how protected on paper, no matter how seemingly safe by virtue of geography or community, as a woman who loves — and is legally married to — another woman, as a woman who loves a genderqueer woman, as the mother of kids who may or may not identify as straight or use the bathroom of their biological gender, my family is other.

That means “other” is also my family.

I say this proudly, with grief, gravity, and most of all, love so big it doesn’t even know where to start. So today I am starting again right here, right now, refusing to feed or spread the disease of attacking each other’s other that’s eating us, collectively and individually, alive. I will not divide and conquer. I refuse to contribute to these knowingly — and hope not to unknowingly.

I don’t think I can read anything else Trump says. Like, ever. As Mani pointed out to me last night, what difference will it make?

People of color have seen these days before and continue to see them, live them, every single day — no matter “how far we’ve come.” Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people have seen these days before and still live them every day, no matter “how far we’ve come.” My Muslim friends are afraid, and with good reason.

So what can I do? What must I do?

I can and must remember that the Jewish people, my people, have seen these days before, and we must never ever forgot how the Holocaust happened. It happened like this.

I can and must take full responsibility for my own privilege as an educated white woman.

I can and must call senators and sign petitions and go to vigils.

I can and must hold space for people’s stories to coming pouring out without fear of judgment or repercussion.

I can and must say the victims’ names. Look at their faces. Read about who they were. And also make room to just be quiet — which is different from being silent. Families and loved ones are grieving amidst so much noise and chaos.

I can and must stop to smell the flowers, love my family near and far, welcome the stranger for we were strangers once, and write from an imperfect, searching heart.

That’s all I got.