While student teaching a year ago, I discussed with my students the happenings in the book Number the Stars, in which a young girl and her family flee from the Nazi’s in war-torn Denmark. In a written response, one of my students argued: “safety is an illusion that we all keep.” She remarked how the author uses a distant relative’s safe house as a symbol of safety, but the family continues to feel terrified of the Nazi’s reaching them. She mentioned how the mother wades into the ocean to get on a boat and is in despair, claiming that the ocean is simply “too big and too cold.” This nine year old then went on to describe how, at some point, the world is just too big and too cold for everyone who lives in it.
Is she right?
I grew up never quite knowing this feeling. I remember finding comfort any time I had a nightmare, knowing that my dad was just a few bedrooms away, and he would protect me from anything that could hurt me. The boogie man, ghosts in my closet, my creepy neighbor who once stole my undies- you name it, he would defeat it. It was the same with the police. I always thought, if it’s over my dad’s head, that is was the police are for! There was always someone to protect me. Undoubtedly.
This past school year I was given many opportunities to reflect on my privilege in comparison to my students and their families. Students began telling me about their experiences with police, their experiences of violence in their community, and more often than not, the intersectionality of these two. These kids, and so many- too many- like them grow up having the illusion of safety ripped out beneath them before their feet even hit the ground for the first time. Forget the literal sense of being protected; for a moment let us focus on the idea. Is it not this illusion which keeps us sane?
As a nation, we continue to chase this safe house, this illusion of safety, and slapping new faces on it. The War on Drugs! Harsher drinking and driving laws! Gun Control! Gun control! GUN CONTROL!
Until we can all discuss the reasons in which many of Americans have given up on the safe house illusion, we are still losing in my book. There is no safety without people believing in those who are meant to keep us safe. Right now, the world is too big and too cold. The tide brings with it systemic racism, bullshit politician mumbo jumbo, income inequality, classism, and fear. It retreats. It returns, bringing with it more and more and more fear.
The more we ignore the tide, the more our illusion of safety- an illusion we love so much-fades into darkness. The world is too big and too cold.