The Tears of an Agapanthus

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Hannah Keene 2019

I often cry these days. Not just because my husband died a year ago, although that’s the occasion for tears on some days. But I more often cry out of despair and fear, and a feeling that my life’s work has been in vain. I spent my career as a teacher of 4th and 5th graders. Two thirds of my teaching years were in underserved neighborhoods where I tried with everything I had to give the necessary skills to my students so that they would be able to break out of a cycle of poverty. And for all my students over the years, whether middle class or below the poverty line, I tried to instill in them a love of learning, and a curiosity about the world. Each year I worked to create a cooperative classroom where students could learn from their mistakes, take risks, and help each other succeed.

These days I sometimes wonder if my 20+ years of teaching made any difference at all. I do know that I made a difference in my individual student’s lives, but I find myself wondering if that made any difference in the wider world. Across the globe I’m seeing genocide, bigotry, hate infused rhetoric, riots and protests caused by the desperation of ordinary people who can’t make ends meet. I see the very rich becoming the super wealthy while ordinary people can end up on the streets because of one medical bill too many, or an expensive car repair that is necessary in order to get them to their underpaid job. I see the 1% of the world’s wealthiest people buy influence and power that subverts democracies. I see desperate immigrants arrive on the shores of more stable countries because of climate change and violence in their land of birth. And I see the more stable countries genuinely unable to take in an infinite number of refugees. I also see some leaders, especially in my home country, the United States, flat out deny science and refuse to work toward limiting the carnage that will be unleashed by a warming planet if we do nothing. 

I am the first to admit that I am more fortunate than most. My husband and I had access to good educations, and although we each had times of unemployment while rearing our children, we were never both without a job at the same time. We had access to good and affordable medical care when our younger child faced a host of serious medical problems shortly after birth. And for most of our working years we each worked in jobs that had a decent salary and excellent benefits. Money was often tight. Sometimes very tight, and we did without a lot of things. But we knew that we could keep a roof over our head, put food on the table, and send our children to school. That counts as well off in most of the world.

I took that knowledge, that we were privileged compared to most of the world, and dedicated my life to working for justice, trying to level the playing field through education, and believing that while no system of government is perfect, democratic and parliamentary systems of governments are the best options we’ve got. And I now see them crumbling into authoritarian and autocratic systems that seem to disproportionally  benefit the most well off of citizens. It’s not much of a surprise, then, that societies world wide are devolving into a us vs them mentality with each side of the spectrum not trusting the other.

I have some theories as to how this has come about, but unfortunately I don’t have any nuts and bolts ideas as to how to fix it. Because it’s not just the United States, or France, or Venezuela, or Hong Kong that’s falling apart because of inequitable resources and whole segments of the population that have been left out of the power loop. It seems to be global. I keep trying to work on equity, kindness, seeing each person for who they are and trying to have honest conversations about where we disagree. I work every day at showing each person that no matter where they are on the income scale, or what the color of their skin is, or whether they have made serious mistakes in their lives, or whether they are immigrants or native born, they matter. I can do this on an individual basis, person by person. But I feel overwhelmed. And I feel like it’s not enough.

A flower cries, the stones cry out, and I weep. Who will remember the forgotten of the world?

Posted for Ragtag Daily Prompt – A Flower Cried.

6 thoughts on “The Tears of an Agapanthus”

  1. You have said so much that I feel too Hannah. And no matter how much I try to think and act positively, so many times it just doesn’t feel like enough. I am though comforted knowing that I’m not alone.

    1. Me too, Su. Thanks so much for responding to this post like this – you are the only one who has done so. I was aware while writing it that it might well put some people off with its intensity. And wisely or not, my brain is working on a subsequent post about how I thought we were DONE with this hatred of “others,” at least during my life time, after the horrors of WW II. Those thoughts went right along with this post, but since I was writing in Post form, rather than extended essay form, I figured that I should make it two separate posts. And I do think, as a writer, (though I’ve been concentrating of photography lately), I have something of a responsibility, (well, in both artistic forms), to help others feel that they are not alone. Although it’s also a way for me to connect with others in order to feel not so alone myself. 💕

      1. I know what you mean. I have sometimes pulled some of my more intense posts — though often because they’ve been really long, and I find that off-putting so I assume others do too. I think our blogs should at least resemble our authentic selves, and that includes sharing things that really matter to us.
        I was reading this morning about the overt racism of New Zealand in the 1970s, and thinking how little has really changed. As long as people can be persuaded to identify and fear “the other” we will not create good communities and societies.

      2. Indeed. And the skilled fear monger taps into people’s overt and latent fears, fanning them toward an outward identified victim. The more problems a society has (economic, racial, religious, stratified, etc), the easier it is to fan those flames and offer an over simplified “solution.”
        I don’t really know if I should somehow label posts that are going to be intense, whether that be in visual or written format. For months, for example, I’ve been working on ideas about how to convey the experience of sexual abuse/asault (or violence in general, for that matter) with non-explicit photography and whether I can even put that up on my blog. (Barbed wire superimposed over abstract colors, for example.) That’s authentic to me, but does that have a place on a generalized photography blog? I’m not going to set up a separate blog site for all kinds of reasons, but I’ve been struggling with that question for a couple of months. It’s also why I wondered a hundred times whether or not I should put up yesterday’s post. In the end, I of course decided to publish it because it felt like the only authentic response to the prompt, and I wanted to respond to it.

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