The words are lead in my mouth. My thoughts are nimble, but by the time the words form, they are too clunky, too heavy to break through the firehose of noise.
Everything is noise. Everywhere is noise.
The noise slams into me every morning, washing over me. It is too hard to listen and too hard not to listen.
I struggle to keep myself from dissolving, my shoulders hunched against the onslaught.
I can see the tension in my friends whose hopes rode so high, whose work has felt so hard for so long–on one side, the resolution to not give in to despair, to hold on to what hope remains. On the other side, the temptation to dissolve, to disconnect, to crumple against the inevitable tide.
We stand together now like we did then. Then we were defiant, triumphant.
Now, we clump together like fire ants in a flood.
We sit around a table at a sandwich shop and within minutes, we are deep into history. Four Americans, two of Syrian descent, leaning in and listening to one another. For almost an hour, we ask questions about Syrian history from the man who has put his life on hold to connect his fellow Syrians with one another here in this strange place.
Things have changed in the years since I first welcomed refugees into this country and yet some things are so familiar, it’s like no time has passed.
There is less financial support. The enormous cultural support we once enjoyed is gone as if someone turned off a tap. Years ago, we struggled to tone down the idealization people had–“Those poor families! Those poor children! How can we help?”
Always, the do-gooders have been here, meeting each other in these spaces, but in the past we were expansive, exuberant, delighted to meet each other.
Now, the refugees who came to find peace are finding more suspicion, more fear. It triggers their deep warning bells.
Their fears set off our fears and we are cautious.
I feel battle-weary.
But around this table, we move quickly into a friendship that feels deeper, firmer, than the easy friendships of the past.
We are older, too, Caren and I, more aware of our limitations. She has promised to hold me back, as she always has, from doing or saying or committing too much.
But when we leave, we are invigorated.
The conversation was good.
Before we climb into our cars, I grin at her, the big toothy grin I use when I’m suddenly, ridiculously giddy. She knows me and she smirks.
Her smirk means she agrees: it feels good to be back.
American popular culture is full of resistance fighters and there is nothing we love more than to see them return, aged but determined.
Han Solo, entering the Millenium Falcon again.
Neo with his black coat flying.
Wolverine with gray hair and deep-set eyes.
I admit that the metaphor that keeps coming back to me is of an aged resistance fighter who wipes the dust off of her bomber jacket and cracks her knuckles before slipping into a cockpit where the seat still curves against her body and her hands know what to do before her mind catches up.
But in the last nine years, I have known actual resistance fighters from real countries where joining the resistance movement meant life or death.
I have seen the toll wars took on them.
I have listened to them talk about their children who died or who fled or who made it to other continents where they are safe but so far away that they might as well be ghosts from another life.
I have held a child so racked by PTSD-induced nightmares that she cannot stop her body from shaking and shared notes with mothers whose experiences with PTSD are the closest thing I have to understanding my daughter.
I have seen what war does to bodies, the stress and disease and loss it causes when governments or juntas or terrorist groups decide that one entire group of people no longer deserve to live. It began with assuming one group of people were a danger or a threat.
I have looked into eyes that cannot and will not brighten again, at spirits that died even though the bodies live on and on and on.
My metaphor turns to ash. I see it for the fantasy that it was: a rich girl in a costume with dreams of glory.
There is no resistance here, at least not yet. If (hopefully not when) actual resistance is needed, there will be no Hollywood sheen to it.
One moment in the presence of my refugee friends as they describe the fear that stalks them burns away my delusions.
I am heavy with a weariness that is not mine, that is older than time.
There is nothing I can do, nothing I can say.
Dank, stench-filled darkness settles in.