I have never “hashtagged” before. I’m not even certain that the very word can be used as a verb, past tense, present tense, future tense. I do understand, though, that using a hashtag means that I am willing to follow a conversation, or have my conversation followed by someone else.
Today, on this day before we celebrate Mother’s Day in the United States, I jump in and join the conversation. I jump in because I am human. I jump in because I am female.
Here is what I know:
- Nearly 300 girls were abducted from a boarding school in a Nigerian village called Chibok on April 15, 2014.
- Chibok is so far away from my present location that the Map app on my smart phone cannot give me directions.
- There was an alleged advance warning from the terrorist group, Boko Haram, that girls would be kidnapped.
- I did not pay attention to the story when my Facebook friends started using the hashtag.
- There are allegations that the Nigerian government refused outside help from many nations.
- Every child – male or female – is a compilation of parts from a mother and a father, predestined to multiply and grow and be birthed and become one with the rest of this race we call human.
- There is intention, on the part of the Boko Haram, that the girls will be sold into marriage/slavery for the high price of $12.
- $12 might buy someone in my home state of Kentucky two Big Mac meals at McDonald’s.
- Chibok is in the northeastern part of Nigeria, which is described as ‘remote and sparsely populated’.
- It is difficult to hide nearly 300 people in a remote and sparsely populated place. Someone is bound to notice.
I didn’t notice … not at first. You see, I don’t watch television except during the threat of bad weather – tornadoes or snow – because I have four children to plan for and to protect. And when I drive in my car, I prefer to keep the radio off. I have a set level of silence I like to maintain around me. It is a strange new thing that has occurred in my life. I prefer the hum of the refrigerator to the ceaseless prattle of commentators or news anchors. I prefer the trill of birds to the noise that people call popular music. I have actually found that I am borderline ignoring people because it is more convenient for me that way. A slow leaching away from others. All others.
Yet, as a writer, that tendency brings nothing to the world’s communal table. As a writer, my complete and self-imposed seclusion brings no hope. As a writer, the failure to see and report is just as much a travesty as an action taken by an extremist terrorist group. As a Christian writer, the failure to respond to the pain caused by depravity is equivalent to hurling the God-gift of words right smack into my creator’s face.
So, I jump in. First, I learn.
I gather as many facts as I possibly can, from as many places as there are available to me. I go back and read the posts my friends have put out there. I zoom in on the pictures and spin the virtual globe for the maps that will let me trace my fingers on the edges of this foreign country. I turn on and tune in to learn the steps to this new conversation dance that simultaneously brings me pain and wakes me up.
Then, I feel.
Just this school year, I sat in my car at the end of our driveway and waited for the school bus to pull to an air-brake hissing stop, and let off my Number Three Child. The bus topped the hill and drove in my direction. I remember sitting there, thinking, “Why aren’t the caution lights coming on?” The bus passed on by. Full realization came when, after the bus passed without slowing, there were no brake lights that let me know the driver knew she had made a mistake and was making every attempt to rectify the situation.
Where was my Number Three?
Panic seized my throat, my heart. My CHILD! Suddenly, the world exponentially grew. I realized with absolute clarity that there were about ten thousand people inside our city limits, any one of whom could have taken my child. I realized that, while our town is not considered the crossroads of Kentucky, there were at least six somewhat major roads that led out of town that were close to the school, and an unlimited number of roads once those six were traveled. I realized that school had been dismissed a full thirty minutes already and, despite the school traffic at the various stop lights, any abductor would have a great deal of a lead away from me. I realized that, in the morning rush to get everyone ready and out the door in the morning, I had not paid attention to what she was even wearing and could give no description to police save the cutting open and pouring out of the pictures her life had painted on my heart.
I called Number Three’s cell phone. No answer. I called the school and told them the bus didn’t stop. The voice on the other end had no answer. Not. Good. Enough.
My actions became regimented, compartmentalized by the pulse of a new beast that snarled and panted inside me. Move. Go. Find the child. Pull the navy blue seat belt strap across the breasts that had once nursed my Number Three and snap it into place. Move. Go. Find the child. One foot on the brake, slide the gear shift into drive. Move. Go. Find the child. Look left, right. Move. Foot off brake. Go. Foot on accelerator pad. Find the child. When the phone rang, it distracted the growing thing inside me.
“Momma? She didn’t stop. I’m still on the bus. She wants to know if she can let me off and can you come get me?”
And then, it was something else that seized my throat, my heart. The things I thought about doing to that bus driver were not very Christian, but I am not ashamed of that. This Number Three is my child, pushed out from inside my secret place, raised by my hands, and held — always, always, always — inside my heart.
Very similar, I imagine, to the way a Nigerian mother holds her daughter.
I learn. I feel, I respond.
I am so pale that my cousin calls me ‘blue white’. I speak English. I am a writer and live in a small town with paved roads and running water and electricity. I am not the very picture of affluence, but I do not want after things that help me survive. I do not (necessarily) fear militant extremists. A grocery store that carries meat and bread and cold milk is 1.4 miles down the road from my house. I have a boy and three girls.
I could have been a Nigerian Mother. It was a simple twist of fate, or a divine design, or the fact that my particular mother and father were born and raised in the Bluegrass state and there chose to rear their children, that kept me from being a Nigerian Mother in the flesh.
But in my heart of hearts, in the soul that holds honor and empathy, I must be her.
And because I must be her, I must respond one word to the thing I now know that happened in that strange place I have never been and might never be.
And because I am a writer who is called to respond in words and jump into the conversation, I pray for you, Nigerian Mother, this one word —