I am having a hard time looking away from the news. I see these people in Ukraine, who have lost everything, who are wondering about the fates of their families, their pets, their homes, their lives, and it’s hard to go about the normal tasks of everyday American life. I find myself deeply worried for the state of the world, scared about the future for my son.
And still, I buy yogurt, bananas, avocados. Still I go for a run. Still I drive to work. There is so much privilege in all of it.
What I wish I could do is help.
I follow the Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) on Twitter. The account primarily posts pictures of people who were born that day and at some point, were sent to Auschwitz. Sometimes, there’s context for who these people were, a little glimpse into lives that were cut short: a profession, a smile, a dog held in arms. Sometimes, they survived; most of the time, they did not.
I have a practice of saying the person’s name aloud, trying consciously to sound out the names that are new to me and then trying again to say it smoothly. I notice when they were born, and – as is usually the case – when they died, and I make sure to really recognize how old they were. Some of them are infants, some are children, some are twentysomethings; some are parents, some are older, some are artists, some are workers. Sometimes, they have my last name. Sometimes, they were born the exact day as someone I knew – my aunt, my grandmother – and I think of the things they should have lived to see.
Sometimes I am tempted to scroll past these posts, but I never do. I take the time to really look at these people who died, wondering who they were. They were like me in so many ways, in the human ways that connect us all.
I read about an 18-month-old who was killed by shrapnel in Mariupol last week, and I think about how carefully his parents must have cared for him, how much joy he must have brought into the world, how every milestone – smiling, rolling over, first words – delighted them. It is all the same; I felt those things too, for my child. His mother might have burst into tears when he took his first shaky steps, as I did in my kitchen one day. His mother might have kissed his cheek every night as she put him carefully down, knowing in her bones that she would do anything, everything, to keep him safe.
No doubt she did everything that she could.
Sometimes the children of Auschwitz were killed with their mothers, fathers, and siblings. Sometimes they were killed alone. I think of their terror; I think of their parents’ monumental grief.
Now, in real time, we are witnessing horrors that will reverberate for generations.
I see these children and families – in the past, and in this very moment – and just think: we must be able to change this, somehow. Somehow. I wish I knew the answer.
I hold my baby closer in the meantime, reading to him, playing with him, marveling at the world in his discoveries, wanting such moments of peace for everyone.