Last weekend The American and I went on a couples getaway to wine country. We both had Friday off and we headed off at midday, arriving as the sun was setting. The house was a rectangle landing in the middle of a vineyard. Too small to be called hills, to big too be called mountains; they were bluffs, as The American calls them, that bordered the property. We sat on the deck as the light disappeared. Beers were drunk. Cheese was eaten. That night we emptied bottles of red wine that crusted the partings in our lips. We made a fire that ate all the wood we had to give. I sat in front of it and watched nature’s television crack orange and break blue.
We lived out days as care-free as they come. Wake up when you wake up. Watch troops of kangaroos fly into the cover of bush. Shower with the blinds drawn in case more wildlife passes by. Wonder what you’re going to eat for breakfast. Eat breakfast and wonder what you’ll drink for lunch. Begin to forget you have a job and an apartment. Start wondering if you could move to the country and buy a vineyard because you could, if you wanted to. Drink more wine. Watch the fire die and go to sleep when it does. Two days passed like this.
The Monday morning we drove back, the ostensible Queen’s Birthday, a friend read the news on her facebook. I said nothing but stared out the window. I can’t remember now what The American said first but at some point he said, honestly it doesn’t even surprise me anymore. I sighed and tried not to listen because I knew as soon as his country was mentioned what was going to happen. Tick, tock, clockwork.
This is why he tells people he’s from Canada.
You can’t be The American and not be answerable for your country’s well-publicised transgressions. You can’t be The American in Australia without being subjected to diatribes against the evils no one knows better than you. I see why he celebrates the international sporting victories, because there is so little else to celebrate world-wide.
When it comes to processing difficult issues, when facing issues that I feel strongly about but have seen little progress on in the years since I started caring in the first place, I shut down. Shutting down is my most favoured defence against all ghastly things. I’ll sit this one out, thank you. I’ve been fighting this habit however, trying to find ways to care without feeling defeated. Looking for an ember amongst the ashes. So far I haven’t made much headway. It’s overwhelming and my small body has big emotions it can’t contain. I take the hatred and prejudice in this world as a personal affront. And so it ends with I can’t right now.
It’s something I admire most about him, the difference between us. He can where I can’t. Where the hurt can silence me, it raises him to speak. He cares enough to explain and to argue and to inform. He knows. He reads the articles I skip through. He joins the conversations I avoid. He refrains from deleting bigots because he believes you shouldn’t limit your circle to an echo of your own opinions. He sees the world differently than I do and it’s broadening my vision.
We drove back and the conversation turned to other things after going through the usual questions. We got home and drank more wine and ate more cheese. We went to work, grocery shopping, asleep in bed sleeping undisturbed.
But today is World Refugee Day. It is a day, like all dedicated to a specific group of people -to celebrate their achievements and to draw attention to their struggles. Yesterday there was a protest in Sydney I did not go to because I wasn’t here. It was rained out. Would I have gone if it was sunny? This morning for work I wrote about the celebration of inclusive communities and the resilience of refugees. This afternoon I skimmed my newsfeed peppered with calls to end what seems to be Australia’s interminable policy of – what else could you call it? – dehumanisation of refugees. Instead of buoying me with hope it anchored me in frustration. I thought, this is worse than the news of last weekend because it is sanctioned and systemic and led by people who were democratically elected to make decisions on behalf of all Australians. And I thought about the Angels that protected the funerals of the Orlando victims, I thought about a girl who messaged me to ask if I was going to the protest, I thought about all the people I know whose hearts are warm and full of welcome. I thought, think of this, think of them.
We all love our country, I the Australian and he, The American. We have our own ways of dealing with terrors but I am coming round to his. This is me attempting not to look away, not to turn off. To say – this happened – and we need to talk about it. Let’s talk about it. I don’t want to be silent anymore.