When I thought about the topic for this issue (passion), I remembered the many struggles, losses, and victories I have experienced — my anxious protective love for my son and nephews; my adoration of and sometimes frustration and anger with my overprotective husband. As is evident in many ancient writings (The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, the Bible, the Quran, etc.), love and rage are deeply intertwined. I thought about Gilgamesh’s physical battle with his enemy, Enkidu, and its inexplicable culmination in a passionate embrace. And, by the way, this dichotomy extends to my son and nephews, aged twelve to fourteen, whom I love, want to protect, and simultaneously want to put in a “time out” from teen and preteen drama, the time out being necessary more for me than for them. Last night, for example, when I was sitting in a parked car with the kids, their loud and rancorous argument annoyed me so much that I was tempted to call the police. I settled for suggesting that they join my husband in the store where he was shopping for our groceries. I am not sure if my annoyance counts as passion or not, but it was a fierce emotion, and if they had climbed out of the car and gone in search of my husband, I would have immediately worried about the fact that they were alone in the dark.
And yet, the more I thought about this essay, the more I realized that it shouldn’t be about me or even about my family. I thought of other families around the world whose struggles put my own family’s squabbles into perspective: refugees and victims whom I cannot protect from wars and mindless hate. I can turn off the television, but I can’t put the Israelis and Palestinians in time out, a tactic that even President Obama doesn’t seem able to employ successfully. In the last few weeks, I have been especially bothered by the Mexican and Central American children who have arrived on American soil full of hope, only to be met with jeers and hate from disgruntled American citizens. The famous sonnet by Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus on the Statue of Liberty that welcomes “the poor, the tired, the huddled masses” into our country seems to have been forgotten by the guards assigned to protect not the immigrants, but the American border.
What would Emma Lazarus think about this troubling situation that seems antipathetic to the hopes she expresses in her poem? And, more to the point, who will anxiously protect these children? I am not strong enough, and it is arrogant to think that I could. But their mothers and fathers believed in the myth of Lady Liberty and were willing to risk everything to take their children away from the Central American drug cartels and the public and domestic violence that they now endure. If these children succeed against all odds in this unwelcoming, even hostile environment, they will do so enabled by a passion that they inherited from their parents the kind of passion held by early Americans such as Emma Lazarus and more recent writers such as Isabel Allende who argues in a 2008 TED Talk that what matters most is a strong and passionate heart. “Isn’t it always true?” she wonders. “Heart is what drives us and determine our fate.”
So following Allende’s argument, these children’s passion, not that of their parents or anyone else, will determine their success in their new home. All we can do to encourage their journey is to hope that this public rage against immigrant children will somehow end, like Gilgamesh and Enkidu’s battle, in a loving embrace.
Anna grew up in Alabama, spending her entire childhood in the same house where her parents still live today. Anna is a retired Professor of English and Women’s Studies from the University of North Alabama, where she charmed her loyal and adoring students for almost twenty years until a bad MS exacerbation convinced her that she should start spending her days playing games on her iPad, reading and writing whatever and whenever she feels like it, and watching the birds feed outside her window.