This was supposed to be about Mary Tyler Moore.
As a young broadcast journalist, living by myself in a studio apartment, I couldn’t help but liken myself to Moore’s iconic character, Mary Richards, associate producer of the news at WJM-TV. Besides sharing the name Mary, we both produced the news—she in television and I in radio at the local NPR station. Mary modeled for us independence, encouragement, integrity and, that plucky quality her boss Lou Grant hated—spunk. I wanted to be just like her. Truth be told, though, I was a Rhoda, more bohemian and sarcastic than the well coifed, tailored and graceful Mary Richards. Still, to this day, when I think of that studio apartment—the first place I ever lived all by myself—or any young woman living alone in a studio, it always conjures up visions of Mary.
What was it about that apartment in Minneapolis? It encapsulated the freedom we had achieved through the women’s movement: to have career ambitions, to not need a man to support us or children to legitimize us, to have a place both literally and figuratively to call our own. And, like Mary, didn’t we all want to hang our initials on the wall to claim ownership of our place in the world?
Which is why this isn’t really about Mary Tyler Moore.
It’s about those in our world who have no place to call home and especially those refugees who, until the President’s “travel ban,” (now thwarted, at least temporarily, by the 9th Circuit) thought they were coming to America to begin new lives and establish new homes. They were held and questioned at airports, forbidden from boarding planes, and separated from family members. I cannot imagine the fear and confusion of these people. They had the proper paper work, they paid for their plane tickets, and then they were stymied by a callous “executive order” that closed the door and turned out the light on principles that are held dear by so many of us.
“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-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
With the exception of Native Americans (also the victims of a greedy and reprehensible “executive order” that threatens sacred lands and water supply), we are a nation of immigrants. Each of us is a descendant of someone who came from somewhere else. My grandfather came from Northern Ireland in 1905. My cousin’s grandfather came as a refugee from the Ottoman Empire in 1895. I have a friend who emigrated from Germany when she was 18 months old, another from Israel as a young teen, and yet another who came with her husband to Los Angeles from Iran when the Shah was deposed. We are a melting pot and everyone has a story.
Some came simply to build a better life, or for education, or to further their careers. Many came voluntarily to escape war, famine, religious persecution or poverty, seeking new lives in the “land of opportunity.” Others were forced to come in chains, sold, beaten, raped and murdered, setting a system in motion of multi-generational poverty, discrimination, incarceration and despair.
I wonder if this current so-called “travel ban” will go down as another of our not-so-fine moments in history, like slavery and the turning away of German Jews in 1939.
I’ve heard from many other writers who admit to struggling with their craft since the November election. Regardless of what some believe, this paralysis is not a case of sour grapes or sore losing and it’s not about Democrats versus Republicans. It’s an existential crisis, the kind we face when we realize nearly half the country—or half of those who voted, anyway, minus 3 million—seems to have a completely different worldview than we do: That so many appear willing to support a regime that turns its back on lost and desperate people because of their religion, country of origin, or color.
Please stop telling us to “get over it.” Writers get over a rejection letter from an editor, a snub from a friend, a head cold. I don’t know how to get over this. I don’t know that I should get over this. I resist because I believe to my core that this is not who we are. I am especially horrified that those who claim to be Christians can justify actions that are directly opposed to the teachings of Jesus. (See Matthew 25:35-40, or check out the Jewish prophet Micah 6:8 in the Old Testament.)
These things keep me up at night and make it impossible to just write the little tribute I’d planned for Mary Tyler Moore because it just seems too banal in light of our current political climate. Or maybe it’s exactly what we all need, to lighten up. I don’t know. I do know it’s heartbreaking to see the tear-filled, bloody pictures of devastated, frightened families separated because of war, children orphaned or, worse, drowned and washed up on the shore.
People deserve to have a place they call home whether it’s a studio apartment in Minneapolis, a trailer in Texas, or a split-level in a Midwest suburb. Despite our challenges, we are an abundant land. I want so badly to believe we are generous, hospitable, and compassionate—not just to those who are like us, but to those who need us the most.
Love is all around. No need to waste it.