When I feel overwhelmed, it’s often my postpartum depression firing up.
The smallest daily tasks take on a looming impossibility.
But lately I have been feeling a different kind of overwhelm, the kind caused by waves of anguished and fear-filled faces of refugees in my news feed. It is an overwhelm at the scope of this crisis and at the amount of energy going into finger pointing and number-crunching, rather than focusing on action and solutions.
I feel overwhelmed because the situation is so…overwhelming.
Is there a growing momentum of tragedy, or is it just the Universe putting it in front of me until I pay attention? I think a bit of both.
Over the last few years, I have actively stopped watching the news because my heart can’t deal with it, but lately, the plight of refugees and asylum seekers seems to be everywhere. I have to admit that I have not been opening articles because I cannot bear to see the desperation on the faces of these people, but it feels like a shameful luxury from the comfort of my home to deny it is happening and claim ignorance.
I can’t help recalling our visit to a concentration camp in Europe a couple of years ago and wondering, as we traveled an hour through farms and villages to our bleak destination, how so few claimed to know what was happening, and how so little was done to stop it. And I am haunted by the words of Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.”
I don’t want to be a bystander.
I don’t want to wring my hands or a turn a blind eye. I want to help, but what can I do to help these millions of people? What is one to do?
And it struck me at 5:00 am this morning—as ideas tend to—that this is not a problem of statistics, it’s a problem of individuals.
These are people. Each of them has a name. Each of their arrivals in this world was anticipated and celebrated. Each of them has treasured memories. Each of them has their weird and wonderful, just like me.
And yet, circumstances in their lives are bad enough to make them leave their home, their friends and family, and to search for something better. The logistics of this is mind blowing to me: what would I take? How do I pack up a life? What do I leave? How do I say farewell my home, my pets, the familiar places that have been my life until now, and to which I may never return?
And as a mum, my thoughts inevitably turn to my fellow mothers who are going through this, and to their little ones. It puts my experience of overwhelm into stark perspective. In the midst of the practical and emotional enormity of what they are going through, these parents must also ensure that their kids have food and water, and must deal with their boredom and tantrums and whimsical needs because kids will be kids, no matter their circumstances.
I read these lines yesterday from the poem “Home” by the Somali poet Warsan Shire which is so poignant and powerful:
“You have to understand,
That no one puts their children in a boat
Unless the water is safer than the land.”
And I am reminded of a parable from my childhood, which hung on a wall somewhere, of the man walking along a beach covered in starfish which had been washed up in a storm, and of him throwing starfish back into the ocean. A passer-by scoffs and says, “Why do you bother? There are thousands more.” And the man replies, “Because I can make a difference to this one.”
I can make a difference to this one.
For me this is where the answer lies: it is not up to me to solve this crisis, nor to save the millions of people caught up in the tragedy, but I am called to make a difference to one. To reach out to one person who is going through this and let them know they are not alone, they are remembered.
There are millions of people needing help, and millions of us wanting to help but unsure of what we can do.
As this momentum grows, I have been hearing of some powerful, creative, grass-roots people-powered initiatives emerging. People who want to take this out of the hands of politicians, and to transform it from a tragedy of millions into a movement driven by a desire for each one of us to make a difference to another. These are people who restore your faith in the goodness of people.
In England, convoys are being organised to cross the channel to immigration centres in France—to deliver care packages, food, blankets and coats as the cold winter approaches.
The House of Welcome in Sydney has set up a trial program which matches people with a spare room with refugees who have no place to stay.
And close to my heart is the Brotherhood of St Lawrence, in Melbourne, which has set up “Befriend a Child in Detention.” They are asking for donations of new books and a letter, if you wish, which are passed on to kids in the shameful detention centres on Nauru. They write:
… [we] received the books and letters with delight. Even more than the gift, it is the knowledge that they are not forgotten, that many Australians care for them, which truly matters to these children and their families.”
We have bought a few of our favourite books and my girls have made cards to send to these kids who have had to leave their homes, and are waiting to find a new one, to let them know we welcome them and remember them.
For the first time in my life, I feel the passion and urgency to write to someone in government to voice my disgust and anger and to compel them to act on a big level as, is their responsibility and privilege as politicians. And so I have attached a copy of this article along with a hand-written letter to our Prime Minister and Premier, appealing to them as politicians, as fathers and as humans to lead us with greatness instead of fear.
And while my heart ache and overwhelm for the plight of millions does not abate, my hope is to show that we can make a difference. Because if that was me, I would hope that someone would remember me, and us. And I do, and will.
Author: Clare Foale
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own