Shoulder the Responsibility

I was not alive during the Armenian Genocide. I am grappling with the fact that I am three generations removed, and the witnesses to the horrors of the Genocide in my family of survivors are dead or dying. The memories of slaughtered children, sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, fetuses ripped from mothers’ wombs in a systematic effort to eliminate every trace of a people whose right to live are but a whisper in my ear. The whispered memories belong to them; and soon, it will no longer be possible to hear from elders or see in their eyes the irreplaceable losses suffered, and the guilt of sole survival through endless deportations, but it is my ethical imperative to incorporate their voices and tell their stories as testimony to those who continually try to deny the reality of the Armenian Genocide. It is also your imperative to tell the stories of collective recollection and shoulder the responsibility to the next generation.

The bitter truth is that 108 years later, there is still a war going on. Artsakh is under attack, and nobody seems to care. Armenians are still facing the threat of annihilation at the hands of Azerbaijan fueled by Turkey, and the world is complacent.  Artsakh is part of Armenia, and its ancestral land has been part of Armenia since 180BC. Between 1914 and 1918, the Ottoman Empire took over Baku, creating the independent country of Azerbaijan with Baku as its capital. The first violence of the current conflict broke out in 1988. At the time, a quarter million Armenians living in Baku were being targeted in a pogrom that occurred prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Armenians were beaten, murdered, and expelled from the city. (Currently there are no Armenians living in Baku.) Artsakh voted to dissolve its autonomous status and join Armenia. Between 1992 and 1994, war over the territory claimed more than 30,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Since 1994, Artsakh has been occupied and run by a self-declared government of ethnic Armenians backed by Armenia all these years.

This tiny piece of land, this Armenia, which has been subjected to escalation of the attacks leading up to the most current blockade of the Lachin corridor is exasperated by the fact that Turkey is openly supporting Azerbaijan’s effort.  Proof of which Erdogan broadcasted in reference to Armenia when he said, “We will continue to fulfill this mission which our grandfathers have carried out for centuries in the Caucasus region.”  Azerbaijani president Aliyev has also echoed similar sentiments.

The ongoing blockade of the Lachin corridor (today in its 133rd day) is endangering the lives of 120,000 ethnic Armenian residents in Nagorno-Karabakh without access to essential goods and services, including food, life-saving medication, and health care.   While countries tut-tut, call on Azeri and Turkish authorities to end this unfolding humanitarian crisis, there seems to be no end in sight. Is it true that we are in the words of William Saroyan, “this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered?” It cannot be. We are not “unimportant” people. This is me, this is you, this is us I am talking about. You know us. We work together, we build together, we share stories, we break bread and drink together. We share our homes and our hospitality with you. We are friends, we are loyal, we are peaceful, loving people. Yet there is a war we must win, structures to raise, memories to write and stories to be read, music to compose and dance to, voices to raise and prayers to be heard.

We cannot remain silent. We will not remain silent, and neither should you. We are the children and grandchildren of genocide survivors. Our collective recollection relies on telling our stories, not with a whisper but with a shout, to the next generation.

POST, INFORM, EDUCATE, DEMAND.  Break the silence of the higher powers. It is          ours to shoulder the responsibility.

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Dedicated to All Women

Dedicated To All the Heroic Women Who…

“Give us wings to open the horizon of ascent,
To break free from our confined cavern, the solitude of iron walls.
Give us light, to pierce the deepest darkness
and with the strength of its brilliant flow
we will push our steps to a precipice
from which to reap life’s victories.”
(Excerpt from poem by Fadwa Tuqan )

HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY…and Month

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Hello?

The house phone rang.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” I asked.
“Nah, it’s not a number I recognize,” he said as he glanced at the cordless landline on the coffee table in the living room. “If they want me, they can leave me a message.” He shrugged as he placed the phone back a little further away from his reach on the sofa next to him.

I thought back to the time when phones were stationary either in the hallway of a home resting on a small corner table, or in later years hanging on a wall near the kitchen with a cord that could stretch anywhere up to 6 feet to facilitate multi-tasking. On the rare occasion when it rang, there was a race among the household to be the first to pick up the receiver and give the customary “hello?” in the form of a question. It was the anticipation of not knowing who was calling, and for whom the person was calling, or what the person might be calling about. A phone call was made to deliver either good news or bad, to inform, to gossip or to pass on something overheard.

In the home where I spent my teenage years, our phone was a rotary dial landline that sat on a credenza in the entry hall where it could be heard from all four corners of the residence. When it rang my father never missed the opportunity to announce “TELEFON!” in case we might have missed the call. I was often the first to run to it and would greet the person on the other end with an enthusiastic “Hel-lo,” because nine times out of ten the voice on the other end was recognizable. It would either be a relative, a friend of the family, a neighbor,  or better yet, a boy or girl friend. If the call happened to be for another member of the household, there was the usual chitchat, the inquiry as to the person’s well-being, an exchange of information about self and the other prior to the phone being passed on to that person.  The tone and clarity of our voices was an important factor in building the conversation and interacting with the caller. It compensated for the absence of eye-to-eye contact and face to face body language.

In the past, phones played a single role — they allowed people to make and receive calls. It was a convenience. Today, thanks to the development of technology, networks and social needs, phones are considered a commodity, a tool allowing users to do much more to meet the needs and expectations of users. It has become a prosthetic without which we cannot function in our daily lives. Portable, pocket size, and user-friendly, they send and receive text messages and emails, take photos and videos, access the internet, listen to music, play games, set up calendars, and contain work schedules and files, among many other functions. That’s not to mention artificial intelligence (AI) technology, steadily having made its way into mobile phones and allowing for things like human-machine interaction— “Siri (or Alexa), add yogurt and sugar to my shopping list.”

Granted, cell phones have reshaped communication in many good ways. One of the more indisputable upsides is the ability to connect with anyone from anywhere around the globe through Skype, WhatsApp or other virtual platforms. They bring one closer to a truer understanding of the human through conversations and discussions which relies on body language, tone of voice, and eye contact all prevalent in virtual connections.  However, one of the most observable downside changes in today’s phone use is the extensive texting and messaging with emojis that inadequately replace tone of voice in expressive conversation. Conversation is the most humanizing thing that we do. It’s where empathy is born; it is where intimacy is born. And we are losing both as phone calls are made less frequently and the desire for the sound of a true voice is dwindling. We are becoming more secluded in our own echo chambers with our handy cell phones in the palm of our hand. And quite naturally, with caller ID now available on every communication apparatus, we can choose to answer or neglect or reject a call based on our personal mood and taste.
Oh, wait, my landline is ringing. (Yes folks, I still have a landline!)
I run to grab it from the couch. There is no caller ID. My curiosity is tweaked.
“Hello?” I say more questioning than greeting.
A few seconds of machine silence on the other end tells me it’s a telemarketing call.
I am in no mood to make polite conversation with a robocall.
I hang up.

 

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For You

For you, I create dreams.
Tell tales of fairies embraced in twilight
and moonlit fables that cradle the night.
For you, I draw pages of passion
that utter sea pearls in your heart.
My love,
My bliss,
I shield you.
For you, I paint
unimaginable colors of devotion
to decorate billboards with art,
Seize moments that quench your soul
to capture melodies of your laugh
For you, I will penetrate shadows
To reach light, body and soul united
For you, live in me
breathe life into my soul
For you.

 

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Happy Birthday

January is my birth month. For those who know me, know that I love Birthdays. They are the measure of yet another year granted by the grace of God; a timeless privilege too often deprived by many whose breath on this earth has been counted shorter than mine.

When I was younger, having a birthday meant having a day celebrated with a special treat, licking the batter off the whisk from my mom’s homemade cake and getting one present, two if fortunate to have a grandmother nearby. When I was younger, birthday parties were where I invited the entire class because I couldn’t differentiate between friends and classmates.

It was a time when all had a go at pin-the-tail-on-the donkey and played musical chairs, did the hokey pokey and had fun. When I was younger, birthdays were social events of eagerly anticipated games and balloons, accompanied by sandwiches, cake, and ice-cream in the home. That was pretty much it. There wasn’t much emphasis on presents. The greatest joy was lighting the candles and having everyone sing “Happy Birthday.” By the time the 1980’s came along, family entertainment centers — bowling alleys, roller and skating rinks, mini golf courses, arcades, movie theaters — became the trend and multiplied. Parents often threw multiple parties — one with the nuclear family, one at school, and one with friends at an entertainment center. And the most popular song of the twentieth century–“Happy Birthday” was once again sung amid the cacophony of noise, and grew in popularity even more in 2020 as an accompaniment to a hand-washing ritual in the global covid pandemic.

The song “Happy Birthday to You” was first published in 1893 and written by two sisters from Kentucky: Mildred Hill and Patty Hill. Patty served on the faculty of the Columbia University Teachers College for thirty years and invented the “Patty Hill blocks” used in schools nationwide. Mildred, the older sister, who had studied music and taught at the Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School came up with the melody to the song in 1893. Patty added some lyrics, and it became a song called “Good Morning to All,” which was a way for teachers to greet students. By 1933, the song morphed its way to becoming the widely accepted title and melody to “Happy Birthday to You.” Unfortunately, Mildred died in 1916 years before the tune became famous as “Happy Birthday.” Patty, on the hand, lived to 1946 long enough to see that she and her sister had started a worldwide birthday tradition being publicly performed hundreds of millions of times.

Last night, with a family of six members, we once again huddled around a homemade chocolate cake with flames aglow from more candles than in my younger years. And then came that singular moment —who’s it going to be? —who is the one person amongst the people who will make a fateful decision to throw his/her voice to start the first syllable of the song? My four-year-old grandson took the lead with a 3, 2, 1 countdown and belted the first syllable. Soon, he was joined by everyone, raising their voices in a cacophonous chorus of birthday revelers. The feeling of shared positive experience—that everyone is celebrating my special day and symbolically carrying me onto another year, with the ups and downs and moments of blah and beauty that go with it—that supreme moment soars on a cloud until the goofiest of the bunch adds ‘And maaany moooooore.’ I smile from ear to ear. I look around, nod in gratitude, and like a child, I sheepishly focus on the sweet candle-lit cake before my eyes.

No matter where we are in life, birthday celebrations are in order. They acknowledge one’s existence. With life being so difficult and people creating wars and fighting battles, with the number of reckless decisions made in the world and with the amount of everyday stress and pressure, it should be celebrated that we’ve accomplished another 365 days. As an adult I realize that birth is my beginning, and every year is a time reminder for a chance to do something good, to make the world a little better and create a ripple effect that can be passed on. But at present, I am grateful to have made enough of a positive impact in the lives of the people surrounding me that they want to come and celebrate my existence on the earth for another year. Besides, birthday cakes are always a treat. And I get the larger slice!

Happy early/belated birthdays to all!

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Peace

Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Mankind.
It is what we wish for especially during Christmas and the New Year. Yet since the beginning of history, man has been in a constant state of war and strife.  We have gone to war for religious or ethnic differences, to gain territory or other natural resources, to overthrow an unjust government or to stop the destructive actions of another country. Alliances have been formed and peace treaties signed to bring about peace on earth, but as one conflict is resolved, several more rage in different places around the world. The history of mankind has been one of continuous enmity, suffering, pain, and death.

Peace is a concept of collective friendship and harmony in the absence of hostility and violence. (Wikipedia). Peace is a lack of conflict or absence of war and freedom from fear of violence between individuals or groups. Ironically, education and development bring greater insight about what is wrong with our world and creates a desire to do something about it. Most of our social and political advancements have come through fighting for them. For example, each of the human rights that we take for granted nowadays were achieved through struggle…the right to vote, equal rights, labor rights, women’s rights, education, natural resources, food, retribution, and the list is endless. In order to help those who cannot help themselves, and to preserve peace on a larger scale we go to war. War is entirely our creation, the product of human choices. War could end tomorrow if a relatively small group of people around the world chose to end it by becoming messengers of peace.

But how can one be a messenger of peace if drama, chaos, and grievances co-exist within one’s home–the very foundation where one’s physical, spiritual, and emotional being resides? How is “world peace” to be accomplished if we seem more focused on the shortcomings of our lives than on the merits, strengths and virtues? How can we claim peace when we don’t know how to say we’re sorry and don’t think of who loses when we win? Until we have personal peace in our hearts and homes, we can’t have peace in the world. So, peace really starts at home. It starts with you and me. Peace does not mean being in a place with no noise or trouble. Peace means being in the midst of all the chaos and still be calm in the heart.

I asked a boy of nine what peace meant to him. “Peace,” he said, is when I don’t hear my parents quarreling every evening.”

A young teen said, “Peace is when I no longer feel the twitch of hunger at the pit of my stomach trying to eat itself because there is no food to go around at home.”

Another said, “When my parents and church allow me to be who I am.” While another said, “When I don’t have to fear the physical threats of bullies just because I look and speak different, that’s when I will have peace.”

A family seeking political asylum said of peace. “When we don’t have to jump at every car exhaust that pops and bangs and at every door that slams taking us back to the terror of bullets, guns and bombs of war.”

I asked a lawyer her rendition of peace. “When justice is served, and the criminal receives what he/she deserves following our principles of fairness.”

A mother said this of peace.”Hearing my child breathe softly in the silence of the night.”  “My family around the dinner table,” said another.

A priest responded with, “Peace comes with prayer. Prayer softens hearts to be more attentive to the needs of our suffering brothers and sisters. Love fills our hearts which brings greater peace to all.”

I asked a person whose body was weary of illness. “Peace,” said the person, “is what I long for… the eternal peace that awaits me on the other side.”

I believe in peace. I believe that I should have empathy and compassion to help others so we can live in a peaceful world. A world where there is no crime. A world where there is no war, no killing, no suffering. A world where children are not bullied or judged for their differences. I believe I have to share. I have to share for a world that feels the gnawing pain of hunger. I believe in the power of prayer and love enough to share with family, friends, and neighbors.  I believe in peace eternal. I will strive for peace.  A peaceful day’s living with a peaceful night’s sleep with a leap of faith in humanity.

This Christmas, may the true meaning of peace on earth find its home in your heart to share with others and with the world around you.

Happy Christmas and A Peaceful New Year 2023

 

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Always Carry Mahs

Every so often I attend church. After the Divine Liturgy Mahs, a portion of unleavened bread (size of a saltine cracker but thin as a wafer) that has been blessed at the altar is distributed among the exiting parishioners.  It is neatly packaged in tiny paper bags. One single bag is handed to each person as he /she exits the end of church service. (The distribution of Mahs is another way of participation for those who could not partake of the Holy Communion, as well as a way of “breaking bread” together and sharing in the bond of love among the members of the church.

The underlying principle is that a nibble of bread is as much a blessing as the whole piece. However, there is no specific rule as to how many pieces of Mahs one can take, if there’s enough to go around. I always take three or four. “Why?” asked a parishioner when he noticed my ritual. I explained that on several occasions this tiny wafer called Mahs was enough to tame my hunger, enough to curb my appetite, enough to hold me through in times of want.

One dark, rainy night I was driving home from a job assignment that took me far from my residence. I had been out all day with only three cups of coffee and one cookie in my system. My stomach let out a loud rumble. I was famished. I was exhausted and traffic was at a standstill. I had no idea what caused the slow-down, how many miles it stretched or how long it would last. It was going to be a long night. I couldn’t help but use a few choice words. Hungry and angry, I took the next exit to find a grocery store where I could pick up a bite to eat with a hot drink. In the bakery section, the aroma of fresh baked bread overwhelmed me, and I ordered coffee and a custom wrapped sandwich to eat on the ride back home. It would be a good two hours before I’d make it to my destination.

With my take-out by my side, I set out to confront the freeway only to be held up by the red light at the intersection to the on ramp. My stomach let out an even louder rumble, followed by a series of what felt and sounded like a thunderstorm in my belly. “Take a bite of your sandwich,” I thought. At that moment my eye caught sight of a young homeless man, drenched under the rain with a sign asking for assistance.  The voice inside me said: “Give him the sandwich.” I began to wrestle with the voice: “Why? I’ll give him money instead.” But the inner voice kept saying: “GIVE HIM THE SANDWICH!” After a 4-5 second back and forth hesitation, I gave my deliciously prepared fully loaded subway sandwich and the hot cup of coffee to the man. His eyes grew large, and with the refraction of headlights in the rain, they sparkled like stars. “Thank you,” he mumbled, and as the light turned green, I saw him bite ravenously into the sandwich.

Back in the snail pace flow of traffic, down one sandwich and drink, my stomach let out another rumble. Yet, surprisingly, the mindset of negativity which had accumulated inside me during the day and on the road began to shift. It was as though a part of my brain lit up and I felt the stress of the day lift. I felt good. But I was still hungry. I searched through the console under my arm rest for gum or candy, and lo and behold found dry Mahs still in its package. My joy was immeasurable. I put the dry, crispy wafer-thin Mahs in my mouth savoring the bite. It softened on my tongue before I chewed and swallowed the tiny morsel between my teeth.  It tamed my hunger. I felt satiated.

Whether it was the privilege of feeding another man on a rainy day or that the Mahs was a symbolic and blessed piece of bread that satisfied my hunger, I will never know. What I do know is this. As the poor drenched man’s want was relieved by putting out his hand to accept alms, so too was my want relieved by accepting the blessed Mahs.

I make it a practice to always carry Mahs.

 

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Travel, My Reset Button

I love to travel. It matters not whether I travel in state, out of state, across borders or over oceans. I long for the revelations, the deep insights and the life-altering encounters travel brings. I want the freedom and adventure that comes from surrendering to what a new place has to show me. I crave the romance of not knowing the flavors of food I will taste, the conversations I’ll have, the people I’ll meet. The anticipation of travel, the sheer idea of going somewhere far away, is always the first exciting thing for me. It’s part coping mechanism, part restlessness, and part soul seeking.

Then someone told me, “If you travel all the time, you’re running away from something.”

Is that true? Am I running away from something…If so, then what am I running from?

“Perhaps you have a restless soul trying to find happiness in external things like adventure and experiences. Perhaps you’re trying to escape from who you are right now,” said the someone.

Is that what I’m doing?

Over the years, I have traveled much.  There is nothing like getting off a plane/train/bus and seeing the beauty of a new place for the first time. Sometimes, the outer beauty is overwhelming, and I have to stand still and let time stop to try to absorb it all at once. Sometimes, the beauty is less about the visual and more about that first conversation with a local when I am pleasantly overwhelmed by their openness and rich culture. I love walking several miles each day in a new place and thinking about who has walked there before me. The foreign dirt spread throughout the world of past and present civilizations holding secrets of languages, food, customs, history and religion excite and inspire me. Mysteries of cultures waiting and wanting to be unraveled and discovered by my curious mind.

I love witnessing the way different people and cultures move through the world – how they interact with each other, love each other, how they make art, how they define community, what they value, what they fight for, and what they believe in spiritually. With every new encounter, I experience a new part of myself. In a state of displacement, I am willing to try new things to push my boundaries. I experience wonder, discovery, awe, discomfort. I go with an open mind, and bring to light things about myself, about others and about the world I would not have learned otherwise.

And rather than discover who I am, I begin to question who I am. To question is a good thing because it breeds non-judgment and openness. It helps to grow and evolve and broaden our vision of the world; it softens our sometimes-hardened attitude about the “right” way to do and think things. It’s easy to have our status quo at home where we become too involved in our current environment and lives. To move out of our comfort zone, to step out and explore and experience makes us aware of how small the world really is …and how important it is to look around, to observe, and to participate in the world around us.

Travel gives me cherished memories, my greatest stories to be told, and countless irreplaceable learnings that I can choose to pay forward to others. It teaches me about myself, and often provides new lenses with which I can see and think about who I am, what I care about and what I am doing with my life. The person I am on a beach in Greece is not the person I am sitting in a café in the middle of winter in Boston. Neither am I the person on a road trip through Eastern Europe the same as the person I am at a family reunion in Beirut. And I start to question taking the new job which sounded like a great idea back home but sounds like a not-so-good idea when physically distanced, but then sounds like a great idea as soon as I get back. Just like a reset button, it forces me to refocus on what really matters. It rejuvenates and grounds me, educates and challenges me, and most of all, it humbles me.

Am I  running away from something? No, but I am running toward living more openly in my non-traveling life. I am running toward being me, with a better perception of who I am —  brave enough to abandon set agendas, exist with my own set of priorities, and let myself get lost from time to time, knowing my own internal compass will help guide me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Own the Fall

“Oopsy daisy, and up you go,” I said to my toddler grandson as he tripped and fell while running outside. This wasn’t the first time he’d taken a tumble. He knew the drill. He took a moment to check himself, rubbed his palms to scrape the dirt off them and then slowly rose to resume his play. Granted there were a couple of time when he fell and cried but after an “Oopsy daisy, up you go,” and a caring hug, he was off again.  No blame, no shame, no guilt. Falling is not a failure for him. He doesn’t suffer humiliation. He blames no one. He owns his fall.

I have faced quite a few falls in my years, and each time I’ve had to get up, I remind myself that there is no lamenting my carelessness or my poor choice or blame the fault on others. None of that will get me back on my feet with a lesson learned.  To get up, I must counter my ego defense system and take ownership of my fall. Sure, it hurts, but I sit for a while on the ground or “at rock bottom” allowing myself the time to have the hurt filter through me and then I get up “owning the fall.” Owning the fall has made a difference in how I approach the world. Dad taught me that.

As a child, I was quite a spirited girl, quick on the draw, which made me more accident-prone. I always had cuts and bruises over my legs and arms, and stitches which are now hidden in my hairline. One day, while riding a bike in the vast stretches of a sandy path,  I took a tumble. It hurt. My ego was crushed but I rose right back up, blaming a small stone that caused my fall. Dad, in his firm yet gentle way said I shouldn’t blame the stone and that I should have paid more attention to the terrain and had I checked the air in my bike’s front tire, I might have prevented the fall. “Own it,” he said. I asked Dad if he ever fell.  “More times than I can count,” he chuckled, “But I learned how to land. We fall all the time, but the real mastery is in the landing and owning your fall,” he continued.

At the time, I didn’t understand what he meant. I thought I must literally learn to fall. I watched western movies where heroes and villains would leap from rooftops, trains, and stagecoaches. I admired athletes who fell and knew how to take a dive and roll especially in the game of soccer. I practiced. I would jump from high walls to try landing on my feet and was always the first to take a dare. As I grew older, I took an acting class in which I was taught to fall using certain techniques. I admit, I learned to fall purposefully, but to fall unexpectedly and to land on my feet was not an easy mastery. I asked dad, “How do you fall?” “Like a toddler,” he said. “I lose my balance, I stumble, falter and fall. And like a toddler, I don’t try to justify my fall on anything or anyone other than myself. I own my mistake. I take a few moments to regain my strength and then I get back up and try to not repeat it. That’s the story of our lives.”

There is truth to my dad’s wisdom. That IS the story of our lives. We all suffer our own falls. We fall. We fall in love, we fall out of love. We fall on our faces, we fall out of fashion, we fall into a trap, and we fall for a trick. We fall ill, we fall asleep, we fall into despair, and we fall into silence. We fall into money, we have a falling out, we fall on our feet, and we fall on deaf ears. We fall into error; we fall in line or fall in place. We fall into step, and we fall into oblivion. We fall from failure of youthful ideals, from ambition, from strength, from loss; we fall from grace, we fall in, we fall out. And in each of these falls, if we can take responsibility, take ownership of our situations, we will fall away from our egos and like the toddler, bounce back up because we want to get back up.

I realize that falling and landing as a child is very different than how I fall and land in older years, but I pray I will land with grace toward grace, and rise again with an “oopsy daisy, up you go.” No blame, no shame, no guilt. I own the fall.

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Classroom Cemetery

Coffins nailed in our heart
For the inhumanity
That stalks us;
Watching,
Minds numbed
We defend the value of life
for an unborn child;
Guns
Tearing flesh, stopping hearts in mid inhale
We lobby for expanded rights,
Defending less the children born.
In a classroom
We pay the price,
Children, lifeless,
Born
And died.

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