As my Facebook newsfeed fills with back-to-school photos, I try to muster the imaginative energy I associate with the onset of autumn. Fall not only means colored leaves and tweeds to academics, but also big dreams for the yet-unscripted year ahead.
Currently, my biggest dream involves the repair of a very tiny flaw in my mother’s heart. Worry blinded me from my standard summer fantasies of intellectual rebirth. Now, I go back-to-school shopping as I prepare to see my mom through another surgery and my advisees through another round of applications. I push my students and my sons to dream big dreams and cultivate confidence in their ability to achieve them.
Small struggles to help a loved one breathe quickly surpass ambitions to bring world peace. However, the circles of the personal and the public good overlap in an existential Venn diagram at the point of broken bodies. We care about Gaza, or Syria, or Kurdistan, or Ukraine, or Missouri; because we know the failure of peace results in broken bodies. The victims of violence -no-matter the source- struggle to breathe as surely as the victims of contagion. Some struggle on arid Persian peaks; some struggle in tent hospitals tucked into West African slums. My mother relies upon machines in the comfort of her condo.
I can’t wet the burning eyes of a blinded babe in a distant desert or of a tear-gassed teen in a neighboring state. I can wet my mother’s lips when she cannot drink. I can help her dream of a future when her imagination fails. While I would like to be everywhere at once, I am only able to be here, make my best effort, and hope others make their best efforts elsewhere. I am NOT saying that I am drained of love by caring for those near to me and have none left to give. The opposite is true. My experience of caring for my mother merely increases my desire to care for others while it simultaneously limits that physical possibility. Just as I am capable of caring intensely for my advisees at the same time I care for my children, I cannot always enact that care at the same time.
All this brings me back to my microscopic big dream. If I can help my mother win her battle against the lingering damage of an undiagnosed disease from decades past; if I can offer tough love and gentle words as needed; if I can stand her ground when she cannot stand up for herself; if I can care, cajole, and carry one loved one; perhaps our collective selves can do so in the streets of Donetsk, Ferguson, and Gaza. I am not there to aid the injured and guide the political actors towards peace, but I do care and hope someone whose life I touched may be present to touch theirs. I dream big.
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