As our Caribbean adventure comes to an end today, there are a number of emotions that I did not want to bring into the next chapter of our lives. I knew that the children, also, had bad memories and experiences that would best be left behind. We came up with a small ceremony to mark the ending and the fresh start waiting for us.
We each took time this week to write.
These notes were lists and letters and rants and words that expressed every negative experience over the last 847 days.
The messages were collected and lit on fire.
One by one, we each took a handful of ash and released it to the sea…
washing our hands in the waves.
And then there was a toast to the future.
My note was actually a letter written to my children:
Dear Caitlyn, Victoria, Grace and Harry:
Sometimes being a military child is wonderful and exciting and gives you a charmed view of the world.
And sometimes it’s hard.
And then sometimes it just sucks. I wish I had a better word, but when I search into the depths of my vocabulary, I just don’t.
After a series of really great “homes” we uprooted you from people that loved you and we brought you to a place of contradiction – extreme beauty in contrast to such ugly filth and hatred. For that I am so very sorry.
When I think of the things that I want to leave behind on this island, I imagine it as a ball in the pit of my stomach – it is made up of hate, and regret, and disappointment and so much sorrow.
I apologize for bringing you to a place where people wouldn’t like you, not because of the person that you are, but for the country that you represent. In the big picture, it isn’t personal at all: it is about history, and politics and discrimination. But when you are 7 and 9 and 11 and 13, and even old like me, the big picture is hard to see. And it feels very personal. I actually believed that stereotypes and misconceptions could be broken down with time and effort. I was wrong. Some hatred is so deep within a culture; it will take generations to get past it. I’m sorry that two-and-a-half years weren’t long enough.
I’m sorry that people called you by a color or an ethnic generalization rather than by your name. That is demeaning.
I’m sorry people took your things and destroyed your stuff. That too, is wrong. Adults are supposed to look out for you, and rules are meant to protect you. It feels like a violation when wrong-doing is ignored. I am still in awe of your open hearts to go back day-after-day believing that it maybe the next day would be different. I am sorry that it wasn’t.
It makes me sick that when you awoke to the sound of fireworks the other night, your first thought was gun shots. I hate that it only took a matter of weeks of living here for you to see people raise a weapon in anger. Some people in this world are hateful. There is violence in many places. It is such an ugly part of our world.
I am sorry that there were adults in your life that made you feel like you weren’t smart. Any teacher who can use the words “You’re just no good….” don’t deserve the privilege of spending their days with children.
I am so sorry that you felt afraid.
I am sorry that you had to eat alone.
I am sorry that I taught you to lock your doors and look away when a stranger approached us. I let fear for our safety reign over our belief in helping others.
I am angry that going to the doctor was frightening rather than reassuring. I hate that you had to witness filth and incompetency in a place meant for healing. Sadly, your eyes have been opened to the norm in much of our world.
I am sorry that you had to sit in chaotic classrooms where bad behavior and foul language were condoned. I am proud that you still chose to be respectful, and conscientious, and work hard. That speaks volumes to your character.
I am sorry that the US military base, that should have been your welcoming home, was so horribly disrespectful. You deserved better.
I am sorry, that even in a home with the most spectacular view, you still saw people use this beautiful island as a dumping ground. Day after day trash was left behind for someone else to clean up. I am glad you are the kind of kids who helped clean it up.
Above all, I am sorry that I couldn’t fix everything. In my mind, I know that these were not issues that I could control, but in my heart I am your mom, and making things better is my job. Please know that I wish I could have taken away the pain and sadness that you had to go through.
I hope that someday you are able to forgive.
Forgive them for being mean, ignorant, stupid, hateful… whatever adjective helps you to understand why they behaved as they did.
I know that what I have to say next will not make what we went through any easier….
But, we have been given a very unique gift.
I know it doesn’t feel like it.
I’m 41 and I’m still trying to figure out how to weigh the balance of just how much I hated the last few years and what I might have learned in the process.
The gift we’ve been given is called empathy.
You now understand discrimination from the inside. You truly know the hurt that comes from being a minority in looks, nationality, and language and to be shunned for it.
Ours is a very unique experience. To recognize the heart of another who has felt lost and alone will be your souvenir from this difficult journey. Don’t let it go to waste.
When we fly away, I promise that you never have to come back. I will spend the next years trying to make you feel worthy and loved and smart and safe. I will not rest until you ears hear fireworks first.
In the future, when the tightness in my chest relaxes and I breathe out the final sighs of frustration, I will remember you swimming in waterfalls, and doing cartwheels on the beach, and the thrilled look on your faces when you caught your first waves.
I will have good memories, but I will never forget how I felt. Fear and hate and loneliness are some of the saddest emotions. I hope that you remember these too and may they rest within you as a force for good.
When there is someone who is different and alone, be the first one to approach them, even if it doesn’t seem cool, or popular.
Because you know what it feels like to have your face looked at as nothing more than a color or a place.
Even worse, you know what it feels like to not even be looked at, at all.
Use your smile to communicate.
Offer a hand to hold on to.
Be the person to them that you waited so long for.
I love you,