On the 19th Anniversary of 9/11, in the midst of a global pandemic.
Many times in the past, these blogs were inspired by the climate of the day, dramatic happenings in our society and around the globe. They would cause me to reflect on how these events impact my parenting, and they might trigger memories of my own father and his influence on me as both a son and a father. I have to be honest, I have sat down to write about this pandemic and how I am feeling, what I am seeing, and how it is influencing my decisions as a father – but I have not been able to, at least not with any clear perspective. Writing is sometimes therapeutic for me. It’s a way for me to process my thoughts and emotions and maybe gain a clearer understanding of how to proceed, but quite honestly, like most people, I feel traumatized. Sometimes I feel as though I can’t breathe. Literally, it’s not safe to breathe. Everything we have known or come to expect about our world, our day-to-day living and how we connect and interact with people, is changed. And it happened abruptly, hard stop. We did not see this coming, we were not prepared. As a society we had a rhythm, a pace that we all kept, marching to the beat of our drums, intersecting with each other in a way that was familiar to each of us. Even as parents, my partner and I had established a rhythm, like a well-oiled machine. Each working our own jobs, handling our careers, tending to our son’s needs, meal times, pickups, drop offs, sports practices, music practices, homework, and play dates. Parents know this is like a symphony, and every moment is being conducted or it all falls apart.
I am worried about this pandemic. I am concerned about the immediate impact that we see all around us, and I am worried about the fallout and the consequences that we will see long into the future. Our children today will reference these events for the rest of their lives. When they tell stories to their children, this will represent the turning point as to what happens next. When I was young, my father had points of references that he had to endure and live through, whether it was his immigration from China alone at the age of eleven years, the great depression, each of the World Wars, various stages of oppression, or racism. There were varying stages of economic independence and building a skillset, a job, a business, and a livelihood that could support us over the years. Now that I really think about it, the common element of him telling me these stories or events was to indicate that it was all in pursuit of a better life, in particular a better life for me. When he spoke of “a better life,” I realize now that it did not mean more things or more material goods. What he was really wanting was the same thing all parents want for their kids – a better future. A future with less pain, fewer struggles, and less suffering. A future with more peace, more abundance, more securities, more health, and more joy and love.
It’s been nine years now to this day, but I can remember taking our newborn baby boy into our arms for the first time and holding him. That deep sense of overwhelming commitment and promise as you look down on that baby and you immediately think, I promise I will do my best for you, I will fight for you, I will protect you, I will give my all so that you will have life. As a new parent you start out trying to control everything, and I mean everything. From the kinds of diapers you use, the food you feed them, the people who can hold them. Eventually their play dates, their friends, their schooling, and life’s lessons. But it’s the stuff we cannot control, the stuff that is happening around us, to us every day, these are the things that define us as parents and ultimately will shape our children. In this single year alone, a pandemic, loss of education, countless deaths, uncontrollable fires, blatant deadly racism, rioting, and economic loss. We have cancelled the arts, entertainment, parks, sports, education, and cultural events. We have banned family reunions, visitation of the elderly and the very young. We have forced separation instead of unity. We have become disconnected instead of connected. As a parent and as a human being, it goes against our every grain to thrive and to connect with others. As parents now, we are in protection mode trying to best protect our child’s health and make hard decisions as to how we will survive these times, all while the basics of health, education, home, and provision are in critical jeopardy.
Early in my adult years I spent many years in Africa, it changed me to the core of my being. I saw pain and suffering in a way that I had never seen it before. I have strong imprinted images in my heart still today of families, alone in desolation, villages that had been torn apart and ravaged. Parents who clung to an infant child who was suffering from malnutrition and starving, a desperate look in their eyes for help, any help, and not for them but for their young. Parents and children with no chance of medical care or attention riddled with disease and without a gleam of hope in their eyes. What I really remember was the sobering feeling of helplessness, of feeling like I could never do enough. The biggest lesson I learned in those moments has stayed with me for the rest of my life. I could choose to do nothing, or I could do SOMETHING. Making the choice to do something, anything, was better than turning away, giving up, or backing down. As a human being I had a responsibility to help my fellow beings wherever I could, no matter how big or how small. Every move in a positive direction was a move that elevated the situation even if just by a fraction, it was still a forward motion. At times the best I could offer was compassion, the act of sitting still with someone suffering, holding the hand of someone I never met before, and would most likely never see again.
In the very early days of this catastrophic pandemic, I called my staff together into our largest meeting room and we sat apart from each other for the first time. I remember thinking of the years of work it took to build a team who worked together for our community, now sitting apart, disconnected from each other for their own safety. The first thing I said was “There are two kinds of people in the world, there are those who run into the fire, and there are those who run away from it.” I was thinking back to attacks of September 11, nineteen years ago today. I don’t mean this as judgmental. We all respond differently, and that is okay. What I was saying to my staff is that there are those who respond immediately in a crisis and jump both feet in the fire. They don’t turn their backs. They come up with immediate solutions and follow their gut instincts. “This is who we as an organization will be,” I said. “We will not back down, we will not go away, we will ramp up, we will do more, we will work harder, we will do whatever it takes to continue to ensure the best possible services for our community’s children and families.” The very name of this organization is Imua – it is written, it is our destiny – we move forward, we don’t stand still, we don’t go backwards. Even if it is simply to hold a parent’s hand with compassion while they struggle to accept the challenges faced with a newborn baby in the midst of a world pandemic. It was a promise I made and it has been our steadfast commitment since.
As a parent I see now that this is the same example we are teaching our son. We are demonstrating each day how to take the challenges of the moment and to find the ways to move forward. We have taken a lot more time in nature, the forests, the hiking trails, the ocean and the streams because at least in these places we can not only connect with each other, but we can connect ourselves to nature and to our sense of place. This connection with nature is where we find our connection to the earth. It’s where we learn to value new growth and find the beauty of our host planet. These places made the air feel safe to breathe again. It caused us to slow our rhythm down and spend time with each other. As parents we became the sports team, the play date, the teacher, and the example of how to maneuver through hard and difficult times. And, in many cases, we demonstrated how to put other people’s needs before our own.
Life is beautiful. If we truly believe this, if we value the life of our planet and the lives of our families, our friends, and those around us, then the one thing this event is hopefully teaching us is that it is all or nothing. We are all connected by the air we breathe, and therefore, we have to include everyone, we are not separate, every life has value. Every parent looks down at their newborn baby and wants a future with less pain, fewer struggles, and less suffering. A future with more peace, more abundance, more securities, more health, more love and joy.
I am living a life of promise. A promise that was made to me by my father. A promise that I have made to my son. A promise that I am living each day to make a better place for him to grow in. A promise to my work and my community to create better place for all our children to grow in. Looking back on the past shows us that we don’t know what tomorrow may bring. The future may not be promised, but it is filled with promise.