When I was in elementary school, my mother used to pick me up by the back gates of the school. It was a daily routine. The bell would ring, and I would wait by the fence until she arrived.
One day, she didn’t come. I waited for a while, but I wasn’t worried. Even when my neighbor walked up to me and said his parents were giving me a ride home, I wasn’t worried. But when I rang the doorbell to my own home, I began to feel my stomach churn in what I soon learned to call a gut feeling. I wasn’t aware at the time that it would come to be one of my more familiar sensations.
This particular day, to me, is one of those memories that I find difficult to solidly grasp. The small details slip through my fingers like water. Everything seems blurry and in my mind even now, everything is shifted to a diagonal angle. All I remember is that my mother was not in good shape, and she was crying. I cannot remember even now how it felt to see my own mother so incredibly heartbroken. Considering I had barely lived half a decade, I imagine that I did not fully understand the situation at the time.
I didn’t find out until later that my mother’s youngest brother had died in Afghanistan over a year before hand.
Afghans have large, extended families. Even if you are not related by blood, you are still kaka or khala. Everybody knows what somebody’s daughter said in the market the other day, or which college somebody’s son graduated from. That is precisely why I am still so shocked that every single Afghan who knew my mother managed to keep their mouths shut about her brother for over a year. They thought they were helping her – protecting from the pain of grieving – but what they did damaged my mother in a way that I had never seen before. She had simply thought that her brother could not return her letters because of issues with the Afghan postal system. To find out he had passed away without her knowledge was unbearable.
Slowly, a new routine began to develop.
As I grew up, I was surrounded by more mourning. More death. More sadness. My mother’s eldest brother also died in Afghanistan. My father began going to memorial services almost every week. The bags under my mother’s eyes became more pronounced. The color began to drain from my father’s eyes. Every phone call ended in grieving and heaving. To every mehmani I went to, there were Afghans who had lost family. Tears were shed. Prayers were murmured. Children grew up in households full of remorse.
Some ask me why I wish to become an activist. This is why. This is precisely why.
We recognize that lives are lost every day, every hour, every minute. But what we cannot comprehend is that in the times of today, there are people dropping dead at a shockingly high rate worldwide. Since the beginning of July, more than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed. On the 19th and 20th of July alone, more than 700 were killed in Syria in the bloodiest 48 hours in history. In the past decade, more than 20,000 Afghan civilians have been killed as “costs of war.” And then some.
For each of those statistics, there are thousands whose lives have been affected. There are thousands of mothers who will become increasingly emptied of emotion, and fathers whose eyes will begin to lose their color. There are thousands of children who will be shoved into orphanages that are already to the point of bursting.
I will become an activist because there should not be so many tired women, beat down by years of oppression, mourning, and injustice. There should be not be so many parents who have outlived their children and live each day wishing desperately that they hadn’t. There should not be so many young people growing up with the damaged psychology of their own mind, brought about by watching their families be dragged away from them.
I have seen the effects of such loss, and it would be my utmost regret if this “routine” were to continue. The time to break it has passed. It is time to burn it to the ground.