Good Morning Vietnam

Walking through a rice paddy en-route to fishing


“… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40

Queens, NY – If you read anything today, read about the what is happening in Queens, NY during this pandemic. In Queens, a city largely made up of low wage immigrants, the people are being horribly affected by the pandemic in astronomical proportions. We cannot, should not, say that we are a great nation when this is happening to our brothers and sisters. We just can’t. While the elite, the rich, the upper class whites have the living quarters, the health care, and the employment wages that they need to weather this pandemic, those who struggle do not have what is needed to survive this. The fact that this is happening in the United States, once thought to be the most loved and powerful country in the world, is telling. It reveals who we are as a nation. And it reveals that we are not the great nation we once was. Not even remotely. It reveals a deep seated stain called racism that many refuse to see and acknowledge. I say that because if Queens were made up of wealthy white folks, this would not be happening there. But of course it isn’t.

It’s difficult for me to release the belief that we live in the greatest country on Earth. It causes confusion and grief and anger. But challenging that belief reveals a deeply held privilege that is not, has never been, something that many in our country have been allowed to experience. For this injustice I grieve.

If you are white and middle or upper class you probably believe our country is great. Because for us it has been great. We had a house, enough food, a good education, health insurance, and all the opportunities to ensure that the “American Dream” could be fulfilled. But this came at great expense as we turned away from the millions who did not have these necessities. Maybe we didn’t see. Maybe we were on the hamster wheel of work and family that didn’t allow us the time to see outside ourselves. Or maybe we were so content to be ok that we didn’t want to look into the darkness that our lives created for others. Whatever the reason, valid or not, that lack of seeing was wrong, ignorant; willful or not. Maybe it was something even deeper and much harder to admit. Maybe it was prejudice and racism and entitlement. And that right there is something we each need to reflect on. If you find yourself defensive right now, that’s a pretty good sign that you probably have some deep soul searching and work to do. For all those years of ignorance or willful looking away, I feel a deep remorse. But remorse is worthless if not followed with actions to correct the injustice. We must acknowledge that the foundation of that injustice is white nationalism and supremacy. Clear and simple. Our country was founded on it. It’s successes and wealth were built on it. It is the foundation of who we are and what made us “great”. If what is happening right now in Queens tells us anything, it tells us that we are not the country we thought we were. And Queens is just one example.

Recently my son made the decision to trade in ten years of savings to travel abroad. Yes, he is very lucky. Now he says he seriously doubts he will come back to this country, his home. I can’t tell you how sad that makes me feel. While traveling through other countries he experienced people who were much happier and healthier than we are. He witnessed governments that took care of their population. Governments who did good things. He shared how today he learned that Vietnam is building and donating 55,000 ventilators a month to neighboring countries because they have stabilized the spread of the virus. He has encountered countries that believe in the tenets of democracy and that health care for everyone, not just those who can afford it, is a basic human right and is guaranteed. They deeply believe that how they treat their most vulnerable determines how strong, healthy, and successful their country will be. The results appear to confirm such moral thinking. These are countries that believe the planet is a small place and that we will all do better if we help each other rather than compete with/against and harm each other. It’s the old “who can play in the sandbox” thinking. You know, the “everything you learned in kindergarten” belief….

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you…”

So today I mourn. I mourn for my country. For the belief of what I thought our country was. For the many who don’t see the deep peril we are in and for those who do. I mourn for those who are in such deep pain and danger while our government chooses to turn its back on them. I mourn for the racism that continues and the loss we are experiencing with this virus. I mourn for the decision of my son, who I miss deeply, to not come back home.

While this did not begin with our current president, he sure gives an ugly and scared face and name to all that is wrong with our nation. Together we have the power to eradicate it. All of it. Beginning with the structural racism that imprisons so many to a life of pain and fear.

I have read that through pain we are provided opportunities to rebuild in the image of something good, something better. I hang my hope on that notion. That we will move forward thinking about our most vulnerable. That our policy decisions and our support of them, will be made taking into account the effects on our planet and each other.

“…And it is still true, no matter how old you
are, when you go out into the world, it is best
to hold hands and stick together.
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum

In solidarity and with resistance, I dedicate this and our work as we move forward to my son and daughter, for your sons and daughters. May we build a better world for them and those who our society often leaves behind.

Mary

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