Friday, November 11, 2016

Helena

Over the past 48 hours, I've thought a lot about my grandmother, Helena.

Helena was a smart woman.  So smart in fact that she was asked by her grade school teachers to help instruct her classmates in reading and arithmetic.  She was so thrilled that both my sister and I went to college.  She said that she had always wanted to go but that her family didn't have any money and it was really just as well because then the war happened anyways.  

I keep wondering what she would have thought about being able to vote for a woman president.

Helena was also an immigrant.  Displaced by the war, she, my grandfather, uncle, and dad emigrated to the United States in the 1950s.  She worked two jobs while raising two children, balanced the family budget, and managed to somehow squirrel away enough money to purchase a home.  She worked hard so that her children and grandchildren could lead blessed and idyllic lives. The United States gave her family an opportunity for stability, comfort, and possibility.

It's hard not to think of her as immigrants and refugees are threatened and vilified by my fellow citizens.

But Helena above all else was a survivor.  She was barely more than a teenager when the nazis invaded Poland.  She survived the holocaust, the deaths of countless family members, and the loss of her first child.  She survived leaving everything she knew and starting over many different times, in many different countries.

In her lifetime, Helena witnessed true atrocities.  She watched as fear, hate, and desperation consumed the countries and people around her.  

After all that has happened in America over the past 48 hours--over this last year--how can I not be reminded of my grandmother's story? 

I honestly don't care which party you belong to or who you voted for.

I understand where you are coming from.

There are so many people in this country who are hurting.  Who are struggling against poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, and various systems of enclosure. 

But othering is not the answer--it's never the answer.  This has been spectacularly proven time and  time again throughout history, in the experiences of my grandmother or your grandparents or you.

I am not sure where to go from here.  So much of the future seems uncertain, so much of the present is raw.  It's hard not to feel anything but visceral disgust for some of the horrific behavior that has emerged since Tuesday night's election results.

There is one thing I do know: when faced with the immense hatred of her generation, Helena never gave in.  She never collaborated.  She risked her life to help others and countered inhumanity with bravery and kindness.

I will never give in either.

I will never be silent when those around me are intimidated or bullied because of their race, nationality, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

I will never sacrifice what I believe to be right for what is easy or convenient.

I will never choose fear over love.