BY KELLY SWAN | July 3, 2018
I bore witness at my newborn’s bedside for two weeks.
I wept for the injustice of her life. Being born into some semblance of suffering and malformation though she was without fault.
I was a bystander. My role almost exclusively to stay by her side. Quiet. Solid. Steady. But not looking away, even when it was so painful.
I bore witness to my daughter’s first four years.
I wept for the great privilege she has. We found the right surgeons. We crossed borders without deterrence. State borders. But borders, still.
I had power. Power that is not afforded to all mothers. Power to move myself, my daughter, my family wherever I choose to ensure her health. Her safety. Her privilege.
I bore witness to the lives of other mothers on our southern border. They look different. They speak differently. But, I promise you, they love their children with the same ferocity as I love mine. I have seen it.
How on earth else could you walk for days from your home? The only one you’ve ever known, into some great unknown?
I’ve borne witness at the bedside of a child for whom a continued life was questionable. But leaving everything for her?
Family? Place? Even the very language you speak? Even my relentless imagination can’t get there.
It is like bearing witness at the bedside of a newborn who you know may not stay in this world with you, times one billion. To leave everything, everything you know. The fear for her child must certainly be infinitely beyond my wildest imagination.
I wept. I keep weeping. Really, the tears may not ever stop. For the injustice of their lives. Being born into suffering and fear though they are without fault.
Those mothers and fathers, their children, are at less fault than my innocent newborn, who from the day she was born was complicit in a system that values white babies over brown. Trust me. I’ve seen both realities firsthand.
I bore witness at the border.
I saw faith like I’ve never seen before. But also fear, uncertainty, humility, fortitude, strength I can not imagine.
I bear witness now. Those mothers. Those fathers. Those children. How will they find each other?
I weep, because I know that paralysis and utter despair of your baby being taken from your arms.
Mine, to save her life. Theirs?
As bargaining chips. To distract us from the dismantling of compassionate American society. Pawns. Tiny human lives.
I can not look away.
We must bear witness.
I must be able to go back into that detention center, to be able to look those mothers full in their eyes and promise them that I did not look away.
How unjust that would be.
Because I know that pain. How we can do that—intentionally—to any mother is a mystery I will lose sleep over until the day I die.
If one mother can rejoice that her child’s agony—laid bare for all to hear—could create even small change for those who come next….how can I look away?
I am here. I bear witness. Quiet. Solid. As steady as I can manage in any given moment. But not looking away, even when it is so painful.
Kelly Swan has served as communications director for the Ignatian Solidarity Network since 2016. She grew up in West Virginia and is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University. Kelly has worked in parish social ministry, child and family advocacy, community education and organizing, and publishing. She lives in the Cleveland, Ohio area with her children.