Late last night, I climbed up onto my daughter’s bunk bed here in our home in New York, and wedged myself between a hundred teddy bears. She was sleeping, peacefully, calmly, with her mother and father nearby. She was safe. I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her head. She, and her father, are the centre of my world.
The stories and images of immigrant children being taken away from their parents by ICE and US border agents are harrowing. Actually, I can’t think of a word to accurately describe this kind of cruelty. It is 2018, and America has been tearing infants and young children away from their parents. Some have been placed in camps, alone and terrified. Some children were held in cages, it is alleged. Some have been placed with family. Some cannot be accounted for. Their location is unknown. And the system that put them there doesn’t know how to find them.
The trauma these children are suffering is unimaginable. The consequences of these actions and the damage it will create are immeasurable. There are rallying calls for an end to this policy. There are petitions and desperate pleas to call elected representatives. And there are people on the ground, doing whatever can be done to help the families that are suffering.
This policy of separating families is not new, it has existed under previous administrations. But what is happening now, since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced back in May that there would be a zero-tolerance policy, feels different. There is a particular cruelty to this moment.
Trust in women
In the immediate aftermath of the Eighth Amendment referendum in May, I felt a huge sense of relief that I had decided to move home to a country where I would be safe, where my daughter would be safe, when it came to our internal reproductive parts. I was relieved that Ireland had chosen to trust women and exercise kindness instead of control.
It’s been a month since the referendum, and as I watch the horror unfold here in the US, I keep thinking of one word: compassion. It is not a part of the American experience. It is distinctly absent from its value system. This dearth of compassion is destroying the soul of the country.
The sounds of children being torn apart from their parents, the videos from classrooms of children hiding from yet another man with gun, the images of black children brutally murdered by police, connect to a place deep within my body. As a mother, these images and sounds of trauma and terror trigger a primal, protective animal inside me. My heart pushes out from its place to force me to do something. Compels me to care.
This feeling is compassion and if there were more of it in the US and less need for power and control, life would be different here. I know it in my bones. Compassion is the answer. But it doesn’t exist in the fabric of American culture.
Ireland is not perfect. But Ireland is compassionate. Irish people cared enough about the suffering of our women to put an end to a cruel, controlling piece of legislation. Irish people care enough to know that there must be an end to Direct Provision. The fabric of Irish culture is compassion. When I thought so long and hard about coming home, this is part of what drove my decision.
For the first time in my life, I feel like anything is possible in Ireland. I have not always felt like that. In the past, I have felt suffocated, discriminated against, patronised, and belittled by my own country. Now, as I look forward, and envision my life there, I feel that most powerful of feelings: hope.
Compassion and hope is a stellar combination that leads to all kinds of other good feelings like pride, empowerment and happiness. A little bit of compassion can go a long way. Can you imagine what America could achieve, the kind of wonderful country it could become if it embraced and valued compassion?
"We don't want to separate families, but we don't want families to come to the border illegally," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, back in May. "This is just the way the world works." This statement is, in a nutshell, the heart of the darkness at play in the US. Attaching a "c'est la vie" attitude to human lives without a morsel of compassion is precisely what is eroding the moral landscape of America. It's been there since the beginning of slavery back in the 1600s, it was there when Native Americans were forced off their land, and it's still going strong in 2018.
When I think about coming home, I take off my rose and green tinted glasses and I see, with 66.4 per cent certainty, that I am returning to a country that values compassion over control. I think about the future, the possibilities, the hopes I’ve held about Ireland for so long, and I know in my heart that it’s time to bring the centre of my world home.