The Privilege of Normalcy

I can't even imagine what it must be like. I can empathize, but no one who hasn't experienced it can understand how hellish a place must be for parents to send their offspring -- unaccompanied -- into and across Mexico on the hope that they'll be able to make it over the American border. In La Pradera, a Honduran neighborhood where seven children were victims of murder during the month of April, one mother said: "The first thing we can think of is to send our children to the United States .... That's the idea, to leave." I can't even imagine.

Reading about these desperate parents left me with one overriding emotion: gratitude. I am so grateful to live where I do, in a place where my family and I feel safe, where I don't have to weigh the kinds of decisions that the mothers and fathers in La Pradera do. I know there are policy debates that flow from the decisions they have made, and, typically, that's what I would have focused on when reading and thinking about something in the news. But, for whatever reason, I can't get past the emotional piece.

Maybe it's the despair I've been feeling about the murders of young Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs by truly evil people, and then the broader violence that has followed. Maybe it's the suicide bombings and other hate-based murders across the world, from Nigeria and Kenya to Iraq and Syria to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I do know that worldwide violence from war has significantly dropped in the past few years compared to the horrific violence of the 20th century, and earlier centuries as well. Even in this country, despite horrific mass killings, the overall crime and murder rates have fallen precipitously since 1990. The numbers -- or at least the direction in which they are heading -- do tell a positive story. But for whatever reason, one incident after another this week about children and senseless violence just got to me.

These stories brought me back to how I felt after 9/11. You see, I live in Manhattan. Not just my country, but my island was attacked. Afterwards, I felt lucky to be alive. I also wondered and feared if more attacks would come. Would my home become a war zone? Thankfully (yes, my fingers are crossed as I write this), that has not become a reality. But I remember a time when that seemed much more likely. Would I move away? Where would I go?

I could have done it. It would have been a terrible inconvenience, a logistical nightmare, a serious financial hit, and a real disruption to the life I'd built. But I could have done it. That, in and of itself, is something for which I am grateful. But it has not (again, fingers crossed) proven necessary. I am comfortable living here, raising a family here, in the place that I choose to live, and which offers me so much.

Being able to exercise that choice is something I didn't really appreciate until 9/11. Most often, even since then, having that choice isn't something at the front of my mind. That kind of normalcy is a privilege. But it shouldn't be. It should be the right of every parent. But in too many parts of the world, it is not. It's certainly not in La Pradera. Not for the parents who said goodbye to their boys and girls, who thought that keeping them home was less safe than sending them on a perilous journey northward.

When the children of La Pradera and elsewhere in Central America got to the border, virtually all of them ended up in federal custody. Buses carrying them were faced with ugly protests in the town of Murrieta in Southern California, which included one incident where a protestor spit in the face of a pro-immigrant advocate. It's worth noting that Murrieta also witnessed a strong outpouring of support, including a well-attended pro-immigrant vigil.

I wonder if any of the protestors knew exactly what the people on the buses were fleeing. I wonder. I understand that there has to be limits, that we cannot simply open our borders to all who want to come. Of course, virtually no one in the immigration debate is saying that we should. I also understand that we have to enforce the laws that we have. Most, if not all, of the children on those buses will end up back where they came from. I wonder if the protestors understood that. I do understand that if they are not returned to their homelands, that even more children will come, and more will die along the way. Of course, they are dying back home as well. There are no easy answers here.

There are countless forms of privilege in this world. The most base-level one is that of normalcy, of safety. I love my children, and would do whatever is necessary to keep them safe. So do the parents of La Pradera. That's why they sent their kids away. I can't even imagine.