Comments on my article on The Huffington Post yesterday featured many protests to my suggestion that, if we really think single motherhood is bad for women and children, then maybe we, as a caring society, should think about how we can help. Essentially (paraphrasing here):
“Why should I give up my hard earned money to someone else?”
Meanwhile, comments on my tribute to my mother on Salon, which also ran yesterday, seemed to indicate a belief that mothers should sacrifice themselves for the greater good of their children and families, in the heartbreaking and difficult cases where those two are at odds. I did not leave my children, and I am so grateful to have found an unorthodox way to balance my needs and my children’s needs so that both are met. So sad, though, and so ironic when placed next to the comments on the other article, to read that quite a few people think:
“My mother left us and found her happiness, but she should have stayed because one person’s happiness is less important that the happiness of several (her children and family).”
One or several? Me or them? Is it just mothers who we require to be selfless, when the rest of us clearly don’t want to be?
The choices, and the solutions, cannot be so black and white. We are human, after all. Love and compassion are part of what we are. There has to be a way to empower us to help ourselves and enable us to support and serve others so that no one is ruined, abandoned, or lost.
The Moment I Knew Meetup for the Huffington Post
“Two decades together. All of my adult life. Every day of it in relationship, in twinship. In compromise. He wanted to go back to that life; he wanted the last six months erased. And faced with that impossibility, before he could go forward he needed me to define precisely who I now was.
“And that was the problem. Even that. I couldn’t say who I wanted to be. I didn’t know, and the point was that I didn’t want to have to guess and negotiate. I wanted to be allowed to grow, to change, with the assurance that I was still loveable.
“I tried to put that into words.”
There is a short video of the readings here.
Read the whole essay here.
On the 65th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we risk losing the memories of the survivors.
I went to Hiroshima in 2001 to interview the hibakusha — literally, the “bomb-affected people.” I made this journey as a Japanese-American woman who had no knowledge of the atomic bombings — no experience of war at all.
When I got to Hiroshima in June 2001 and began my interviews, good-hearted people shared their testimonies with me, all beginning with where they were the moment they saw the plane, where they fled to, and who among their family and friends survived. Even those stories with some gore in them — descriptions of how the six rivers of the Hiroshima delta were so swollen with bodies that you couldn’t see the water — were curiously detached. It was not that they were afraid to offend the American interviewer. It was that they had forgotten precisely what it felt like.
The survivors recited the facts I had found in books: 100,000 dead within days, 100,000 more dying; everything within two kilometers irradiated; thirteen square kilometers burned to the ground. Drinking the water was deadly. Small fleshy body parts, like ears and noses, melted long before the people themselves died.
Often, the hibakusha ended our conversations with a speech about the need for peace and nuclear disarmament. There were even people who expressed their belief that the world was already at peace, and that, by dying spectacularly, the victims of Hiroshima had made it impossible for any sane leader to use nuclear weapons again.
I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that their sacrifice was almost invisible where I came from. Photos, film, documentation of the city had been confiscated and censored almost immediately after Japan surrendered, and the only indelible image of the bombing was the power of the bomb itself: the “shock and awe” version of the mushroom cloud. John Hersey’s Hiroshima, first published in 1946, remained the only “oral history” account released by a major, commercial American press. As a result, most Americans know almost nothing about nuclear fallout beyond the 1950’s advice to stock your bomb shelter with canned food.
But after September 11, 2001, when terrorism exploded on television, the interviews began to change.
Witnesses recalled being trapped under beams, screaming to be saved from the tornadoes of fire that were whipped up as the shock wave advanced. One woman I spoke with, who was about eight at the time, told me about trying to fit her mother’s eye back into its socket. Another remembered giving her child water and watching his lips attach and pull off onto the spout of the kettle. One man said:
They brought my sister home, lying on a door. She died the next night, calling, ‘Mother, help me, please.’ My sister’s agony, her terrible burns, her skin slithering off… it was common at the time.
The global instability — the terrorist attacks, the anthrax, the war in Afghanistan — had seeped into the past and made the kind of unconscious link between inhumanities that only trauma can. The hibakusha had been stripped of their trust in the future, and they passed that insecurity to me.
In 2001, living at the world’s first “ground zero” and watching on TV as my New York City home adopted that label, war seemed to be an act that could only be possible if we could fool ourselves into believing that other people’s children were not as precious, or human, as our own.
Hiroshima should have taught us not to be such fools.
This article was first published by the Progressive Media Project. When I sat down to write something for this anniversary, I realized that nothing has changed, except the date. So I changed the date. It is now also available on The Huffington Post and Discover Nikkei.
The two things that everyone wants to hear:
You are safe.
I see you.
It comes up in the context of children, in an article on The Huffington Post by Judith Acosta about verbal healing, but it’s what we all want, even when we have grown beyond those fragile, trusting years, even after we have been disappointed in friends, rejected in love, worn out by work, surprised and confused. It is why we marry, why we create community and organize religion. Why we buy things we think we will possess forever; why we think we can own anything.
And it is why, I suspect, we believe the fear-mongers when they say: “You are just like us” (I see you); “Trust us to keep the bad/different guys away from you” (You are safe).
My most vivid memories of my mother, even now that I am one, are of her assuring me that whatever the latest dishonorable, stupid thing I did was, it would pass. I would not have to carry it forever. Stealing candy from a store when I was in grade school. I remember the panic, the sinking in my stomach that I could never make this right, that I could never be worthy of my parents’ love.
You are safe, she said. I see you.
And though that was close to forty years ago, I can still feel that gift she gave me. I can still feel her climbing into my bed to hold me and wipe my mistakes and inadequacies away. To thank her, I often try to give that same sense of safety and being seen to everyone I meet, even if just in a smile. Thank you, Mom.
Can you still feel your mother?