“Ta’ali ou’di Janbi,” Kater al-Nada mouthed in Arabic. “Come sit next to me.”
Shachar, who knew five words of Arabic but not those uttered by Kater al-Nada, nodded. Shachar dropped into the seat. They exchanged smiles.
Two exuberant 10-year-old girls choosing to sit next to each other shouldn’t be a big deal. But Kater al-Nada is a Muslim Palestinian whose family lives under Israeli governance in the Beit Hanina area of East Jerusalem, and Shachar is an Orthodox Jewish Israeli who lives in West Jerusalem. Although eight miles separates their neighborhoods, they’re light-years away geopolitically. They don’t share a religion. Nor a language. Nor a nationality. They live in worlds that think of each other primarily in derogatory terms and hold deep grievances.” – an excerpt from Ruth Ebenstein, New York Times
The tears of friends and relatives of friends from across the world ache in me often. I feel helpless and undereducated in foreign matters. However, yesterday, I woke up to the cries of children and young people that were far too loud for me to ignore.
Note: Now that I am well into my 40’s, anything under 50 feels young. *LOL*
The lens I view the world from is relatively unique as a Black woman and mother moving about this earth. I have been Black (and in America) my whole life, although not consciously understanding what that meant until age 7. I have been a woman since the age of 18 and a mother since age 19. Motherhood brought about a whole different journey which feels simultaneously very in the moment and also very connected to generations ahead and behind me. My 4th great grandmother, Isabella Taylor, was an enslaved person who took care of the youngest hands of the fields and the owner’s home. She passed on a story though her daughter, Tamar, about a time that she was feeling particularly low. Her baby son had died minutes after birth early that morning. She was allowed to bury him and rest in the cabin quarters. However, when the owner’s cousin came to town with a newborn, she was put back on duty. I imagine she was chosen over other wet nurses because he knew she had fresh milk, now known as colostrum, which could ward off disease and more in a newborn. She put her own pain aside and allowed this strange newborn, who she knew would eventually grow to despise black skin, to hold and suckle her grieving breasts. I don’t know much this ancestor of mine, but this small window into her character is enough to know that I love her and am proud to have come from such a full-bosom loving person.
Thankfully, I have not suffered the horrendous things that my foremothers and forefathers had to endure, but I do feel the remnants of being constantly underprotected. I often move about my community without adoration, consideration, or protection even from people that take money and oaths to “serve and protect” me. The same goes for my children, once they have moved out of the gaze of white-centered “cute.” For my son that age was around 11. I don’t know what age that will be for my 7-year-old daughter. But, because I know that day will come I must protect her and teach her to protect herself physically, emotionally, spiritually, and in all the ways.
“My nerves often get the better of me,” said Anne Frank in her diary. “I wander from one room to another, downstairs and up again, feeling like a song-bird whose wings have been brutally clipped.”
Here I am decades older and I still don’t understand war or why young people have to sacrifice the most for politics that they are not a part of. I am reminded of another great writer and poet, Maya Angelou. Much of her early writing was autobiographical about her childhood. She was the victim of rape, family dysfunction, and went mute for several years. During her mute years, one of the poems she connected with was Sympathy, by Paul Lawrence Dunbar in 1899. In his poem, Dunbar writes in his final refrain about the caged bird:
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!
This poem would go on to inspire, some 40 years later, Maya Angelou’s famous poem and autobiography “I know why the Caged Bird Sings.”
We need to pray, not just for a particular country or religion. We need to pray for the people. For the children. The Caged Birds who are trying to sing for a better world.