This op-ed could contain information that may be triggering for some individuals. If you are in urgent need of mental health support, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Pictures of our broken world are heartbreaking.
The Earth shudders for 75 seconds and tens of thousands of people die in Turkey and Syria. Buildings collapse into rubble. A new crop of refugees is sown, adding to the 30 million on our planet.
A natural disaster of unnatural proportions.
A madman in Russia declares war and unleashes his arsenal of death in Ukraine. In one year 7,000 civilians become collateral damage, 438 of them children. More than 11,000 civilians have been injured. Some 200,000 young soldiers on both sides of the war have been killed or injured.
Writer Chris Hedges: “Of the past 3,400 years, humans have been entirely at peace for 268 of them, or just 8 percent of recorded history.”
In my lifetime of more than six-and-a-half decades, I cannot recall a time that there was not some horrific useless war raging somewhere on this beleaguered planet. Hence, this bumper sticker I saw in Toronto: “All War is Terrorism.”
A broken world created by human hands.
Since 2014, 50,000 migrants have perished trying to get to a better life in Europe. Some 25,000 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean, 16,000 of the unfortunate never to be recovered. One thousand of the migrants that died were children.
Here in the United States, where we construct walls not bridges, and where we wrongly refer to migrants as “illegal aliens,” around 7,000 deaths have been documented, 4,694 of whom were heading to the US according to the United Nations. “The US-Mexico land border crossing alone has seen more than 4,000 deaths since 2014.” Water stations set up in the Arizona desert for the migrants are routinely vandalized, sometimes by the Border Patrol itself.
Is Emma Lazarus’ 1883 poem The New Colossus still relevant? “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Should we remove those words from the Statue of Liberty and replace them with these words by a former twice impeached president instead: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”?
Why not another assumption? Think of each and every death, whether at sea or in the desert, as a wasted life in search of the same amenities as we, the more fortunate by the dumb luck of birth, take for granted. Food. Housing. Education. Warmth. Opportunity. Peace. Compassion.
Broken nations create broken citizens. Governments that lack empathy create indifferent citizens. What we refuse to understand we choose to hate. Hate becomes a virus that infects our most precious resources: our children.
Last week my 15-year-old grandson attempted suicide, something he has openly discussed and tried since the age of five. Yes, since the age of five, when a kid’s world should be magical and bright—especially for my grandson, who has caring, stable parents, three loving siblings, and a safe environment. Five is also the age that most American kindergarteners practice their first shooter drill.
Is this mental illness or something less quantifiable, perhaps a frequency he and so many other youth can hear, a cheerless frequency of dread as they confront the wreckage of a broken world we have gifted them? No wonder studies urgently declare that our teens are depressed, suicidal, and vulnerable.
Have we created a lost generation?
Where are the leaders, the example-setters in our country and abroad, the wise ones who can teach all of us ‑- young and old — how to build and pass on a righteous life that leans into compassion and peace?
Forget politicians — past, present, and future — who, rather than working to improve our lives, bark nonsense on Twitter while stuffing their pockets with generational wealth from lobbyists, television appearances, and lucrative book deals.
Popular culture? Social media? TikTok? Please, let’s not even go there.
No, we must be the adults in the room.
And, as overwhelming as these issues are, to simply give up is not an option. Neither is apathy. In The Half Known Life by author Pico Iyer, he offers a passage that seems both prescient and instructive. “…the fact of things passing was not a cause for grief so much as a summons to attention. All the light and beauty we could find, we had to find right now.”
We have to continue to pay attention. Light, beauty, and the miraculous surround us. Two weeks out from the earthquake and survivors are still being pulled alive from the rubble. Migrants do make it to Europe’s shores and to a better life than the one they fled. Ditto for asylum seekers that make it into the United States. Russia’s assault is being repelled through the resolve of Ukrainian’s courageous men and women.
My grandson is alive.
Are you in urgent need of mental health support? Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.