Sunday Reflections: Things I Don’t Know If I Can Forgive You For, a Lament for a Senior Year in 2020/2021
TRIGGER WARNING FOR DISCUSSIONS OF SUICIDE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE
It was Christmas Even when we got the call. After months of being diligent, my stepmom went to bed sick. All in all, 10 members of our family ended up with Covid. Two of them are fighting for their lives. It’s day 22 of sitting with the phone in hand waiting to see if my father will survive.
The Teen is in her room and I can hear her crying. It’s her senior year and this is the thing we have feared the most. There probably won’t be a graduation, but if there is, will her beloved grandfather be alive to attend? We no longer know. As his first grandchild gets ready to graduate high school, he struggles to survive a disease that so many people are still saying aren’t real, or isn’t really that bad. Family members that have survived describe as the most pain, the most exhausted, the most fear they have ever experienced.
The other night, they tried to take my Dad to the emergency room again but there is no room. As we have just celebrated Christmas I keep thinking about the statement: there is no room at the inn. But this time, the inn is a hospital and the condition is Covid-19 and one person is dying every 6 minutes. There is no room at the hospital so they send my Dad home with an oxygen machine and instructions of what to watch for and when to come back.
My teen’s senior year has been one of constant fear and uncertainty. We’re in the midst of a deadly global pandemic. She went and voted for the first time in her life and now everyone is saying that the votes were a lie without any evidence. She is having panic attacks and there are questions. I have to tell her that no, it’s not always like this. It has never been like this. Not in my lifetime. Though it has never been perfect, it has never been like this.
She is sitting in class when the insurrection starts. She goes to a hybrid school and she is in class when I get the text from a friend: Holy Shit. That’s all it says, but I know what it means. I know that what I feared may happen has happened. Things 2 is at home, with me. So I jump in the car and drive to the high school and sign my teenager out. On the line that says reason I simply write: violent insurrection.
We sit at home and we pray. She goes to school and there have already been issues with MAGA classmates and the next day, she is afraid. For the first time, she is genuinely afraid for her life from her fellow students, her neighbors. We talk about what that means, what is must be like daily for her LGBTQIA+ friends, for her Black friends, for her Jewish and Muslim friends.
On the day of the inauguration, she could not watch. She wanted to celebrate the first woman being sworn in as Vice President, wanted to watch and to cheer. But she was too full of fear that Kamala Harris would not survive the day after the events of January 6th. I watched and when she was safely sworn in, I cheered and texted her to say: She’s Vice President! Yet another milestone was stolen from her.
My teenage daughter is 18 years old and this is what her life has looked like.
She was born after 9/11, so she has never known a life without America being involved in 3 or more wars.
When she was six, the economy tanked. We lost our home and had to move from her home state to get back on our feet.
Before we moved, however, our town flooded and she and her two-year old sister were rushed out of the home through freezing, raging waters that came up to my waist by complete strangers. The town has flooded a couple of more times since then because of climate change.
A classmate was beaten to death by a parent, at least four of died by suicide in her high school career.
The first time she was sexually harassed, she was in the 7th grade. No fewer than 4 of her friends have been raped, that we know of.
Economic anxiety, an opioid epidemic, school violence, war, poverty, and more. These have been the hallmarks of her life to date.
And then there was the global pandemic
And then there were political lies that led to a deadly insurrection.
Her senior year there has been no Homecoming, no parties, no date night with friends. There will probably be no prom. But there is lies, destruction, and death.
I am angry every day. I am scared every day. I see how this is effecting my children, and I’m angry. We decided to donate all of our Christmas money to foodbanks this year. That turned out to be a really good idea because after that Christmas Eve phone call, no one felt like celebrating.
I honestly don’t know what to tell my children. How to answer their questions. I don’t know why people are protesting the mask mandate while they see sickness and death all around. I don’t know why people seem so willing to give up the very democracy that we always held so dear. I don’t know why people aren’t more upset about an assassination attempt on the Vice President of the United States. I don’t know why people are believing conspiracy theories despite evidence that proves that the pandemic is real or a lack of evidence that would prove election fraud happened.
I don’t know why any of this is happening.
I don’t know why nobody wants to help the starving children.
I don’t know why some people are angry when they hear Black Lives Matter.
I don’t know why people care who someone else loves.
I don’t know why the people who told them that Jesus loves everyone and to follow the Golden Rule are now spreading lies, unwilling to do the simple act of wearing a mask to protect others, or seem fine with racism and anti-semitism.
Yes, we have always known that these things exist, but we have been shocked by the depth of it and broken hearted by the people we loved who have proven to be something different than we thought.
The Teen has finally gotten accepted into the college program of her dreams. She will go to college in another state on a campus she has never even seen. I feel like my fear about this is something beyond the normal fear that one experiences in this situation. I have no idea what the world will even look like 6 months from now. Will she be politically safe? Will she be safe from a deadly virus? Will she have any rights?
I don’t recognize the world right now. And I know that I am speaking from a place of white privilege. I know that America has never been perfect, has always been racist, and sexist, and classist. But this feels different. Now we have people in elected positions who actively want to overthrow our democracy, not defend it, and I imagine they were always there as well, but now they aren’t even trying to hide it. And that might be the most terrifying part of all of this.
When the evil feels like it is safe to come out of the shadows and be out in the open, things are so much worse than we ever could have imagined. And I have read a lot of dystopian YA, so I had a pretty good imagination.
So today, I will sit once again with my phone in my hand. I will pray for my Dad, I will pray for my country, and I will pray for my daughter.
I don’t know how I’m going to forgive you, America, for what you have done and are doing to our children. Not just mine, but all of them. The hungry ones. The scared ones. The hurting ones. The ones who have Black or brown skin or come from a religion that isn’t Christian. The ones who are LGBTQIA+. The ones who have been sick or have loved ones to this disease. The girls on my 12-year-olds soccer team who can’t come back because they had Covid and now have permanent heart damage. The ones whose parents taught them lies and planted the seed of hate and conspiracy in their hearts and now they will struggle to live in a reality that is different than the truth.
We have failed. We have harmed. Maybe we don’t even deserve forgiveness.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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