Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Speechless

Phew.

I got back from Israel yesterday afternoon--overnight flight from Tel Aviv to Newark, then Charlotte, then home. I had brought my iPad with me on the trip, intending to blog while I was there, but I didn't. The internet was a little dicey at the first hotel, and though our bus  had wifi it only worked for the first 14 devices that snagged it, and then also our schedule was packed very full (the commemorative t-shirts which I really hope Marla Frazee or Barry Deutsch is designing will feature a quote from our tour guide, Jonty, "we are supposed to be there already") and then also I preferred either talking or listening while I was on the bus, and trying to sleep when I was in my room. I'll probably write some Israel blog posts in the next few days, but if I don't, it won't matter: the trip will inform my writing going forth. Before we left, PJ Library kept sending us emails calling it, "the trip of a lifetime." I've gone on a lot of really great trips but I've come to believe that. The trip was unique, not only in terms of what we saw but how and with whom we saw it.

Yesterday during my layover in Newark I spent time online catching up to the news. I knew about the March For Our Lives--my friend Stacia Deutsch wore a Moms Demand Action t-shirt to the Western Wall and would like everyone to know that thoughts and prayers have been taken care of, thank you very much, and we can all move on to laws and action--but I hadn't yet watched the video of Emma Gonzalez's speech or heard that Leslie Gibson, a man no longer running for the Maine House seat, called her a "skinhead lesbian," trying to imply that she should just shut up.

Which was interesting on so many counts. First of all, I don't think he understands what "skinhead" means. Yep, shaved head, but also white supremacist. Whatever else you can say about a Cuban-American bisexual young woman, it probably isn't that.

Second, Emma's already discussed her decision to shave her head--as a hairstyle, not a political act. She did it before the shooting, before her high school prom, before she had any idea of her current position. And she made a powerpoint presentation to convince her parents to give her permission.

Let's unpack that for a moment. An adult male was trying to publicly shame someone who still wanted and needed her parents' permission to cut her own hair.

It's also interesting that "lesbian" was used as code for "we don't have to listen to her--she's not even a woman who's attracted to men, she's a woman attracted to women." Nevermind that that's now how Emma defines herself.  Nevermind--well, just nevermind.

She's eighteen years old. She's fierce and smart and strong, and eighteen. When I was in Florida recently I was impressed when an 18-year-old friend of mine asked if she could drive my horse trailer, because it was brave of her, and adventurous. I'm not making that up. It wasn't standing in front of a few million people in DC, but it really was brave.

And then I think about Emma's mom, who got a phone call or a text or whatever--there's a shooter at your daughter's school. I thought about what the next few minutes were like for her, let alone for the mothers and fathers of the 17 people who died.

And I thought about Emma's silence. Because she spoke mostly without words.

I stand in front of audiences all the time. I'm very comfortable giving speeches and classroom presentations. I wasn't always--it's a skill I worked hard to attain. When I was Emma's age I wouldn't have been able to read the announcements in my homeroom without my hands trembling and my words tumbling out too fast.

Standing silent, saying nothing, is much harder than continuing to speak. Standing without moving, while cameras and crowds stare at you, while everyone gets less and less comfortable with your silence--that's breaktaking.

I'll go back to writing about Israel tomorrow. Meanwhile, for Emma, I have no words.