the golden door

golden-door

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

– Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

They come through the doors of the tiny office where I work every day. I am one of three staff working at a small nonprofit refugee organization in Atlanta, Georgia. They are the women, men and children who have come seeking refuge in the United States.

They walk through our door as they begin to “resettle” into new lives in an unfamiliar place where they rarely speak the language. They are refugees, asylum seekers, and those with special immigrant visas who worked to support the U.S. military – our military – in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. They are individuals who left everything they knew to escape persecution and death.

They carry trauma like I cannot ever imagine. But you would never know it from their kindness, their patience, their graciousness, their humility. Their resilience. They come to us at the end of a long journey that has taken them to places I cannot even begin to imagine.

Their homes and the lives they have always known turned to rubble.

The loss of livelihoods, careers, educations, family members and friends. Community.

The dangerous journeys into unknown temporary places where they wait, often for years.

Weeks and months of vetting before it is deemed they are “safe” for us to accept into our country.

Do you know how much vetting a refugee has to go through before they can come here?

They arrive with the clothes on their backs and the few items they were able to bring with them, all this way; nothing compared to all they have lost.

They are resettled into tiny apartments for often large families, nothing like the places they knew before.

They are given the minimum they need: a family of five gets five plates, five glasses, five forks, knives and spoons, one set of pots and pans, five towels, two or three beds.

They get help finding jobs – but not the jobs they used to do utilizing the skills they have; instead jobs for $8 an hour with no benefits, unreliable hours, long distances to travel, harsh and often dangerous conditions.

Do you know what goes into preparing the chicken we buy wrapped in Styrofoam and plastic wrap at the grocery store? Do you know the people who do this work?

They sign up for English classes at the local community college, but the community college doesn’t provide childcare, so some with small children – usually women – get left behind.

They connect with other refugees who speak their language, perhaps some who have been here longer, and they form new communities.

Word of mouth brings them to our door.

We help them with basic needs – diapers for their children, feminine hygiene products for the women, laundry detergent, dish soap, toothpaste, shampoo, linens, items to complete the kitchens of women who love to cook, cooking oil, rice, lentils, cribs, car seats and toys for the children.

We help them understand and file their paperwork for food stamps and Medicaid, help them navigate the transition when those benefits end, help them read confusing letters from landlords. We help connect them with emergency aid when an unexpected event prevents them from making their rent.

Do you know what it’s like to arrive in a new country needing open heart surgery, and then to not be able to work to support your family? Do you know what life is like in a refugee camp when your heart is failing?

We help them find better jobs with better pay, perhaps even benefits. We help them register for training and credential programs to improve their opportunities. We help them research what it would take for them to do here what they did in their home countries.

Do you know how many years of school it takes for an Iraqi dentist who had a private practice for twelve years to become a dentist here? How does he go to school for four years while supporting his family?

When they come through our doors I do all I can to welcome them, to let them know in a small way that they are home. The people who walk through our doors are scared, apprehensive, unsure. On top of the traumas they carry and the challenges of their new lives, the messages they hear in the media are not those of welcome. They, too, read the words of accusation thrown their way in the media: that they are a threat, that they must be terrorists, that they are undeserving of our help, that they are overwhelming our system, that they are Muslim. Even their faith is thrown at them as a flaw, a danger.

Do you know how it feels for a traumatized person to be retraumatized?

I hope they also read what the media wrote about the thousands of people who rallied at airports around the country this past weekend to protest the anti-refugee, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim executive orders of our new presidential administration.

These are men, women and children like all of the men, women and children you know. They had lives before like the lives you and I live. They took their children to school in the morning in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and welcomed them home with a snack and helped them with homework in the afternoon. They went to college, built careers, went to their jobs, celebrated births and weddings, prepared meals for family and friends. They sat and watched ball games and shows on TV.

Before they were refugees, they were people. They are still those people. When I look into their eyes that is what I see – humanity. If ever you aren’t sure, just look into their eyes.

The lamp beside the golden door of our small office remains lit and the door remains open. All are welcome here.

welcoming the refugee

I work with refugee women and their families at the Refugee Women’s Network in Atlanta. We were asked by Reuters to provide one of several “expert views” about refugees and the incoming presidency. The piece we are a part of can be found here. What follows is the complete piece I submitted to Reuters yesterday.

The words immigrant, refugee, Muslim, walls, and terrorism have ignited fear, hostility and division throughout the 2016 presidential election cycle. The refugee communities we work with at the Refugee Women’s Network in Atlanta, Georgia, arrive to the U.S. from countries where conflict, war, persecution, killings – and terrorism – have torn them from their homes, their families, their cultures and everything they know.

In spite of the images we are bombarded with of boats packed with people off the coast of Greece, or long lines in a camp in Lesbos, a refugee is not an abstract identity. Refugees are people who had homes and careers, who studied in universities, fell in love, built families and raised children with an eye toward a better future. They hoped for the same simple things we strive for as Americans.

In their home countries, they are no longer safe. When they arrive in the U.S. and are resettled in Atlanta, we do everything we can to not only ease the transition to life in America, but also so that they know they are welcome here. With limited funding from federal and state governments, the resettlement budget per person is extremely tight, and the months they can receive support are few. Most refugees receive help finding work in often-dangerous food production or manufacturing jobs, even those who bring medical degrees or doctorates from their home countries.

Our clients bring with them the traumas of all they have experienced and lost – homes that have become rubble, spouses who have been killed, chronic or terminal illnesses they have contracted from all they have suffered. Our job is not only to help them adjust to their new lives so that they can gain social and economic self-sufficiency, but to help them begin the long process of healing.

Refugees are scared right now. Their safety and future here feels more tenuous, and the messages they have heard throughout this election have in many cases revictimized and retraumatized them. They are concerned their missing family members won’t be allowed to join them in America. They fear they will lose their green cards or be deported. Like their American counterparts, they worry about how they will get health insurance, whether they will be able to go to college, if their food stamps will be lowered, if they will lose the social security disability coverage they began receiving after an injury at one of the local chicken factories where many of them work.

There must be continued funding at the state and federal levels to support the work of both large and small refugee organizations nationwide. These organizations must be well-staffed to provide a continuum of care that supports the range of needs of all members of a family – not just for the first 120 days after their arrival.

As providers of this support for refugees, we look to the presidency of Donald Trump and his administration to remember that we are a nation of immigrants, and that our diversity is not our weakness, but what makes us strong. For 130 years the Statue of Liberty has stood as the symbol of our welcoming shores for all those who come from tyranny and oppression. The nations of the world are watching to see whether we will open our doors to welcome refugees into our democracy. Our hope is that the incoming presidential administration – supported by the legislature on both sides of the aisle – will retain a spirit of inclusion that makes refugees feel not only welcome, but safe.

for b.

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There are two trees in front of the house next door. They bloom twice a year, once in the spring along with all the other trees, and again in the fall after they have lost their leaves. I never knew trees could do that, and even though I’ve seen them bloom twice before, this year again it amazes me. It feels rebellious, audacious. Generous. These beings of nature that do their own thing but manage to give of themselves in the process.

I’ve been connecting with some very old and very dear friends the last few days, some with whom I haven’t spoken in years, following the passing of a friend we all shared. It hit me that I am at that age – when friends my age start to go. I’ve lost important people in my life – grandparents, friends, my child. I’m not new to death or loss or grief. But this hit me differently.

Life feels tenuous today. I feel hyper aware of something I know but manage most of the time to ignore: that nothing is guaranteed.

And yet here we are. We bloom when we can, we fall when we can’t stay up. And then sometimes we manage to bloom again, like those trees.

Like those trees, we reach out to each other, but sometimes not enough. Sometimes it takes a loss to remind us.

This is for you, B. Thank you for your adventurous and generous heart, for your wit and humor, and for all you gave of yourself to all of us who love you.

 

what we fear, what we hold dear

All lives matter. It’s everywhere, this debate that it’s not just black lives that matter, but all lives. Every few hours on my Facebook feed, I see a comment to someone’s post with those three words: All lives matter, with the unwritten but inherent but before them. Usually a back-and-forth ensues, where someone then has to explain why those three words – All lives matter – are hurtful and actually part of the problem. Why saying that all lives matter right now, in this challenging and necessarily uncomfortable place where we are trying to talk about the value of black lives, is dismissive of those very black lives we are being called upon to recognize.

It’s not complicated in my mind and heart. It’s clear to me why all lives matter hurts, dismisses, ignores. Because we aren’t all the same – not in the eyes of our culture, our society; not in the eyes of each other; not in our experiences; not in our status. Even if in a perfect world we would and should all be equal, right now and for centuries leading up to this moment, we are not yet seen or treated as equal.

I am white and I have not lived as a black person. There are experiences that my black son will have that I will never know personally because of my white skin. Because my identity in the eyes of society, in the eyes of others, does not show on my skin. Because you can’t know just from looking at me that I am Jewish, that I am an immigrant, that I am bilingual because I came here from somewhere else.

So when I see all lives matter it makes me wonder, What is it that we fear?

What makes us feel threatened – as white people – when we hear that black lives matter that we should need to reply so quickly, so defensively, that our lives matter too? Are we afraid – even subconsciously, even as the good people we are – of losing our status, our importance, our value? Are we afraid of losing our privilege? Because the thing is, we do have privilege. Our privilege as white people is in the fact that it has always been a given that our lives matter. We have never had reason to doubt the value of our lives. We have not been told by the inherent messages and structures around us that we are inferior, less important, our bodies and our lives more disposable.

Black lives matter doesn’t take away from that. It never can and it never will, because in a systemically racist culture – our America, our world – white lives have always mattered more. That won’t be undone easily. And it won’t be automatically undone when black lives begin to matter, too. The thing is, all lives will truly begin to matter only when black lives begin to matter.

Maybe it’s just semantics, but I think it’s more than that. There is no such thing as color blindness. None of us is color blind, even if we are raised in the most open, loving and diverse communities, even if we are taught from the very beginning that each of us is created in the image of God, perfect and precious exactly as we are. Even my three-year-old black son has already noticed that his skin is a different color than my own, than his sister’s, than his father’s. What he doesn’t yet know is what that difference will mean in the bigger picture, to him, and as he grows up in a society larger than his immediate family.

I don’t see color, I see only humanity. We are all one. That’s a beautiful sentiment, and it isn’t untrue. I wish it were that simple. But this ignores our unique experiences. It ignores that my experience as a white person and my son’s experience as a black person will always be different because of the privilege I have that he won’t. Because of the implicit bias that is in each of us.

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Two nights ago I marched with my black son and my white husband at an NAACP and Black Lives Matter rally in defense of the value of black lives. For blocks I walked behind someone who held a sign that read, We’re not trying to start a race war. We’re trying to end one. And that was it for me, the reason why I don’t see color, we are all one is too simple. Because racism is alive and well; it is systemic and has been for centuries. Most of these precious, powerful black people I marched with – my young black son included – have ancestors who were brought to this country as slaves. That is the race war and it isn’t new. Black and brown men and women make up a disproportionate amount of the prison population in this country – that is the race war and it isn’t new.

There was a black man walking to my right for a while who had written on the back of his jacket, Am I next? His question is not one I will ever have to ask about myself, but it is one I will have to ask about my son. Could he be next if he isn’t careful, as a black boy, as a black man? That is the race war and it isn’t new. It isn’t new, but it needs to be recognized, questioned, challenged, dismantled.

I think more than anything, each of us – whether we are saying that black lives matter or all lives matter – needs to feel seen, heard, known, valued, recognized. As humans we want to feel safe, cared for, held by our communities. We want to be a part of something rather than feel isolated or alone. We want to know that we are each important – because we are. When that is threatened, we fear invisibility, we fear our disappearance. We feel the loss of our identity. So we yell out, I matter too! And you do! We all do.

Right now, though, I am putting aside how much my life matters because it is something I just know. My importance, my value as a white person is not in danger. It’s not going anywhere and it is not something I need to worry about. But the value of my son’s life, the value of the lives of all black men and women, is at stake. So that is what I mean when I say that black lives matter. Because black lives have to begin to matter as much as all other lives. Until they do, the race war – the one that divides us and lifts some of us up by keeping others of us down – will be alive and well for decades and centuries to come.

(im)permanence

Milkweed

Last night was the first StoryWell storytelling event hosted by The Well, a program of The Temple in Atlanta, GA. I was honored to be among six storytellers sharing personal stories based on the theme of permanence. Here is my story, both the audio and the text.

(im)permanence – StoryWell audio

I had a dream that she came out of my belly. She came out to tell me that she was a girl, and that her name was Tikva. She came out to tell me and then she went back inside.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the dream. In the morning I asked my husband, “What do you think of the name Tikva?”

“Hope,” he said. “That’s nice.” That was it, in that moment. It was still early, I was only halfway through my pregnancy. We put the name aside – a possibility. We didn’t know if she would be a girl or a boy.

Ten days later we got in a cab and drove to the other side of Jerusalem for the ultrasound – the big one you have in the middle of your pregnancy. The one to make sure everything is okay with your baby.

We took our older daughter, she had just turned four. It never occurred to us not to bring her. At her ultrasound the doctor had happily told us, “Everything looks perfect. Enjoy the rest of your pregnancy.”

There are three words you never want to hear from a doctor. Three words that change your life forever:

“THERE’S A PROBLEM.”

We had told him we didn’t want to know the sex of the baby, that we wanted it to be a surprise. But as soon as he told us something was wrong, it became so important to know this simple thing that would allow us to connect with our baby.

“She’s a girl,” he told us. Of course she was.

“Tikva,” I said to my husband. “Hope. That’s her name.”

We went home broken. Scared. The known had become unknown. My vision of what awaited my family was blurry. Frightening.

Would Tikva live past the moment of her birth? Would she overcome this imperfection that made her wellbeing so tenuous? Could modern medicine save her so that she could live a long, full life as our daughter?

How long could I keep her inside me, safe and held?

My husband walked to the Western Wall to pray. I gave him my prayer for my daughter on a tiny piece of rolled up paper.

Please, God, don’t make me bury my daughter. I won’t survive.

It snowed outside that January in Jerusalem. The city shut down as its single snowplow struggled to clear the streets. Somehow I made it for a second ultrasound and an amnio.

I made phone calls to specialists all over Israel. I sent emails back home, to San Francisco, connecting with experts there who understood our daughter’s condition. All of them encouraged us to come back home.

I cancelled our lease and packed our suitcases, and we landed in San Francisco the day before Valentine’s Day.

****

She was born 4 months later.

MY TIKVA. MY HOPE.

The moment I pushed her out and my husband cut her umbilical cord, she was swept away to be put on a ventilator.

I developed a love-hate relationship with that ventilator – this machine that kept her alive, weakened her airways, required a feeding tube so she could be nourished by my milk, and made holding her so complicated.

There was a brief period that started around day 30 when she didn’t need the ventilator, only oxygen. The doctors talked to us about what it might look like when we brought her home, how she would need oxygen probably for many months. We were ready for anything.

Please God, just let our daughter come home.

We held so much hope.

Tikva struggled. Our tiny seven and a half pound girl fought for her life. She wanted to stay, I really believe that. But her body was too fragile. She could never get enough air.

On the morning of day 58, as I pumped my milk for her, showered and got dressed, I had a feeling it was time. I didn’t say anything to my husband about what I felt, but later he told me he also knew. I headed to the hospital, and after taking our older daughter to preschool, he met me at Tikva’s bedside.

She had had a rough night in the critical care bay of the NICU. Her oxygen numbers had dropped frighteningly low. Twice the doctors and nurses rushed to her bedside as the words “CODE PINK” resonated over the hospital loud speaker. This time the code pink was for her.

I looked down over her and asked for her guidance. She opened her eyes to look at me and she told me she was done struggling, and it was time for her to go.

Please Tikva, please know how much I will always love you.

We took her outside for the first time in her short life, and her last breaths were of fresh misty air, no ventilator.

I held her as she died, and I did bury my daughter. And I survived.

****

She came out of my belly in a dream that winter to tell me her name was Tikva. She came out of my belly again in summer to teach me these three things:

She taught me how to hold onto hope when everything is unknown.

She taught me that all I needed to do in my powerlessness was to love her unconditionally, for as long as we had together, and forever after that.

And she taught me that everything is both finite and infinite. That nothing is permanent except love. That impermanence makes each moment so incredibly precious. And that we survive our losses and our struggles because even those don’t last forever.

In that time each fall when the milkweed seeds float around, or when I look up to see a red tail hawk flying overhead or perched in a tree, I feel like Tikva is there.

And as soon as those brief moments end and the milkweed and the hawk float away, I know she is still there.

Infinite.

My greatest teacher.

 

let’s talk about trauma

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trauma: 1. an emotional wound or shock often having long-lasting effects. 2. any physical damage to the body caused by violence or accident or fracture etc.

Big, powerful word. It summons up thoughts of war, genocide, violence. Veterans who come home with the invisible wounds of PTSD after having fought in wars. It makes me think about my grandparents who were Holocaust survivors and what they carried deep inside them from what they had lived, from all they had lost. It makes me think about friends who have battled cancer, friends who have lost spouses, friends who – like me – have lost babies. It makes me think about all of the ways life can turn on its head in an instant, when we least expect it, and change us forever – change us down to our very cells.

Did you know that our cells carry our traumas?

I’ve been thinking about trauma lately, naming it, recognizing it inside myself. I’ve been looking at the trauma I still carry – even now, when I am feeling so much better – from the years I felt like such crap because of the auto-immune illness I live with. From the years I was so sick and struggling so completely to feel just a little bit better.

I have spent years – literally years – guided by my primitive/ancient/reptilian brain, living in fight-or-flight mode. I have spent years being cautious, fearful, and so completely careful about every bite of food I took, worried about how each bite would affect my body, frustrated to the point of rebellion that I couldn’t just fucking eat. I developed a superpower during these years: It’s an internal radar that allows me to find a bathroom – anywhere, anytime – within minutes if not seconds. I learned how to manage my condition in often obsessive ways that allowed me to trust my body just a little bit while taking away my ability to ever completely relax.

I developed other superpowers living as a sick person with a hidden illness: I got really, really good at managing my medical care, managing medical paperwork, getting reimbursements. I am the master of customer service calls, especially to health insurance companies. I got really good at researching EVERYTHING and taking what I had learned and the many resulting questions to my doctors. I got really good at developing supportive relationships with those doctors.

Do you see the theme, here, though? I am a fighter, a survivor. If shit hits the fan, I’m exactly the kind of person you want on your team. I fight. I’m persistent. I’m smart. I think 10 steps ahead at all times. I consider all possibilities in advance and I’m always prepared for anything.

But this is a crazy exhausting way to live. Especially when I was already feeling physically unwell. And especially now when I am feeling better.

(Do I even dare write “now that I am feeling better?” Am I really truly feeling better, for real? Can I trust that to be true?)

It’s a difficult lifestyle to unlearn because the trauma is still there – all the way down into my cells.

I was first diagnosed with this condition 19 years ago, after several years of other body challenges. I’ve had years of terrible illness and years with no symptoms at all and no need for meds. I’ve been surprised repeatedly when the symptoms returned, until eventually I came to expect they always would at some point – at least that’s what doctors tell you when you have a chronic condition. I’ve wrestled with whether or not to go on medication, felt frustrated when medication didn’t work or stopped working, and felt tremendous fear at how the medication might be hurting more than it helps.

I am so accustomed to living in a constant state of alert!-caution!-prevention!-attention! that it’s really difficult to turn off. To relax.

To trust my body. To trust that I am well.

The irony: Stress worsens my symptoms. That has always felt like a cruel joke. Just relax and you’ll feel better, I’ve been told, usually by people who are not living with an illness. I ate paleo – gluten free – grain free – vegan – raw – macrobiotic – (whatever) and healed! Try it, it will heal you too! This never helps me, just makes me feel like I’m chasing rainbows. Like I am never doing enough. And it makes me even more terrified of food. And I really enjoy food, a lot. And it’s not like I can just stop eating. Another cruel joke.

So how do we do it – how do we unlearn the fight-or-flight response once it is so familiar, so deeply ingrained in us? Is it possible to release, to heal some of the trauma, to lighten our load?

This is how I start: By writing these words. By naming it. Calling it by its name.

I think we all hold trauma in some form – big or small. I think when we keep it to ourselves, inside ourselves, we allow it to grow bigger, big enough to overwhelm us and drag us down. We are all fractured in some way, aren’t we? We are all imperfect and vulnerable. There is no shame in that. No need to hide our cracks, our scars, our wounds. Our traumas.

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And you? Is there a wound you hold that you’d like to name, to diffuse a little, even to release? How do you do it?

 

 

look for the helpers

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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”     – Fred Rogers

You’ve probably seen this Mr. Rogers quote before. It comes up here and there, especially in times of national or global crisis. It shows up in a Facebook post after a tragic murder or some other senseless event that is difficult to understand. It comes when we are scrounging for hope, for faith in humanity. For faith in each other.

I thought about that line, Look for the helpers, as I read an email late last night about the passing of a very special man. The email was from his incredible wife, and I could feel the love and the heartbreak in her words.

He was a minister, a leader, a father, a grandfather and a friend. I met him and his amazing family during the most difficult time in my own family’s story  – during the period surrounding the short life and death of our infant daughter, Tikva, almost 8 years ago.

We didn’t know them at first, but we knew their daughter who had been a fellow parent a few years before when my older child had started preschool with her children. She reached out to us, and with her, so did her parents.

They offered their love. They offered their help. They offered the support of their incredible community. They collected furniture from their community for our empty home, baby clothes for our still unborn child, linens for our beds and bathroom, pots and pans and silverware and dishes for our kitchen. With grace and unconditional generosity of spirit, they held us when we needed it most. They brought ease so that we could focus on our family.

They weren’t the only ones. Friends and family left meals daily in a cooler on our doorstep for the entire two months of our daughter’s life and for two months after that. Relatives came through for us in uncountable ways. The Jewish community opened their arms and gave us a place to land. The parents at our older daughter’s preschool instantly loved her and cared for her and brought her home with them after school so we could stay late at the hospital with Tikva.

And a vast community of parents who had also lost babies – some further along on their own journeys and some right where I was – held me as I grieved, for as long as it took. Tikva’s loss brought the gift of new friends to my life, friends I cannot imagine my life without.

The helpers.

I didn’t have to look for them or seek them out; they just showed up. I didn’t have to ask; they just knew. Because of them, I know how good people are. Because of them, I survived. Because of them, I knew I was held and never felt alone. Because of them, it is impossible to lose faith in humanity.

 

 

 

resilience

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We not only care for our children because we love them, but we also love our children because we care for them. The process of taking care of our children is in fact immensely bonding. Our experience of difficulty altogether is where we come to know ourselves.  

~ Andrew Solomon

Writer Andrew Solomon has a TED talk called Love, no matter what. It’s my favorite TED talk ever, at least a dozen of its 3 million + views are mine. I first listened to it two and a half years ago, during a drive across three state lines with my baby boy sleeping in his carseat in the back of our packed car – we were driving behind my husband’s car, headed to our new home in a new city.

The description of his talk on the TED website reads: “What is it like to raise a child who’s different from you in some fundamental way (like a prodigy, or a differently abled kid, or a criminal)? In this quietly moving talk, writer Andrew Solomon shares what he learned from talking to dozens of parents — asking them: What’s the line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance?”

I cried as I listened, thinking of Tikva, my daughter who had lived such a short but powerful life. I thought about how, in the 58 days she lived, she taught me my greatest lesson; she taught me about unconditional love and unconditional acceptance. Because I had only to love her as she was, for as much or as little time as I would have with her. Because I had to completely surrender every idea I had had about what she would become, how she would grow up, even that she might survive more than 58 days.

All Tikva needed was my love, pure and present. Unattached. Relinquishing any idea of being able to fix, to rescue, to save her. It was all bigger than me, I was whittled down to my core – and at each of our cores there is only love.

As I listened to Solomon’s words on the headset of my phone, I looked in the rearview mirror at the tiny boy asleep in his 5-point harness, a blanket wrapped around his brand new little body. He had been alive for three months, for just three months he had been my son. I thought about how before those three months I didn’t even know he was coming, I didn’t even know how he would change my life. I thought about how intricately connected he was to Tikva, how her story had become his story, how all of our souls were already intertwined.

I thought about what it would mean, for every year of my life until my very last breath, to raise a son, to raise a black man, to mother a young child again, to be an adoptive parent. To love again. To love unconditionally.

****

I think of myself as a resilient person. I have experienced pain. I have sometimes survived and sometimes overcome loss and illness, heartbreak and grief. I have been cracked and stretched in ways that have not always been comfortable. I have grown, hopefully evolved in good ways. I have learned – I continue to learn – about what really matters, and about what I can let go.

After Tikva died, I had such little patience for petty complaints about trivial things (those of others as well as my own). I wanted to make a t-shirt that read, Remember what matters, as a reminder to others and also to myself. When you experience great loss, as you experience the deepest sorrow, the really important things come into the sharpest focus.

Would I be the same person if life had beat me down just a little bit less, if I’d had to put myself back together a few less times? Was I born resilient, or is it something I learned? Where did the optimism I have always seemed to carry come from? Is resilience a gift? Is it something I can teach my children, or will they learn it on their own through their own challenges?

There is comfort in knowing that the challenges have had some value, that out of them I have come to know myself.

Resilience is peaceful. When I allow myself to feel my resilience, I experience calm, acceptance, confidence, trust, strength, hope, wisdom and compassion. Resilience isn’t blind faith; for me it holds the knowledge that, while more shit will surely happen, I have the experience – the resilience, the ability – to get through it.

When I first learned about Tikva’s birth defect 5 months before she was born, almost 8 year ago, I didn’t think I could ever survive losing my child. But there it is – resilience. I survived because I had no other choice. I loved the only way I knew how – completely. I learned to love the only way that is worth loving – unconditionally. No matter what.

My heart cracked open into a million tiny pieces. Each day I recognize and connect with my resilience and I put one more of the pieces back together, polishing the rough edges, re-forming myself into something new, something better. Choosing to thrive.

Isn’t that what we all do, in tiny ways and huge ones? I think this is the opportunity offered by our resilience: Choosing over and over to love – ourselves and others – unconditionally, no matter what.