The photo that currently serves as my desktop is one that I took at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. in January. It is a photo of words, in black wooden letters against a white wall that greets visitors near the front entrance. The words are from Elie Wiesel, a political activist, professor, writer, and Holocaust survivor. It simply reads, “For the dead and the living we must bear witness.”
I can’t tell you how many times that quote has played in my mind over the last four months. How many times I have wondered how a young boy, imprisoned and orphaned in a concentration camp, came to be a man who could forgive and share, love and trust so openly after what he’d been through. It is true that the human spirit can withstand a great deal, the museum shares that spirit with its visitors. That’s what I appreciate about the museum, the way the stories, the real, heart-wrenching stories, the real, makes-you-so-mad-you-see-red stories, are told in a way to remember the past, and poignantly and pointedly, look toward the future.
Listen, I don’t intend to wax political about the Holocaust or genocide, or any numbers of harsh truths that we face day in and day out in our country, or see on the news about other countries, but I do intend to speak on the “T’ word itself. In a world where we are constantly being lied to, by our own Commander-in-Chief, it is important to rely on facts. It is important to bear witness to what is truly happening in and around us.
There are scientific truths, verifiable facts, that people in our own country are turning against. There are people who can simply turn off the television screen and pretend like there are not children in cages on American soil. There are people saying things like, “Evidence-free” and “alternative fact”. All of this amounts to a lot of not telling the truth. And without truth we can’t bear witness to the children who are in cages. And the young women being sold into sex-trafficking, and the heaps and heaps of danger our democracy is in.
On a personal level, I wonder what good I am doing. What good I could be doing. I wonder how I am bearing witness to the people around me. The men and women who live on the street. The ones who live paycheck to paycheck. The estimated six million people in prison on charges they should not be in prison for. How am I shining a spotlight on the injustices of the minorities, or those living in poverty, or the children in the foster care system, or the children on the streets. I lose sleep over it, and honestly, you should too.
Because a world of people who lose sleep over whether or not their neighbor can afford her light bill, or whether or not that elderly woman you saw last Tuesday trying to cross the street ever made it to the bus stop, is a world that is capable of changing the problems that the generations before us created. A world of people who have empathy, who have heart, who can and will bear witness to those people, is a world where things are capable of changing.
Maybe I am being too naive today. I have my days. Maybe I am feeling too powerless and I am looking for a strength I can’t muster alone. Either way, say you’ll try today. Tomorrow. Next week. Whenever you find the strength. Say you will try to do better. To be better. To worry about thy neighbor more. To help those around your community. To share their stories. To bear witness. To speak out against those who are spewing hate and lies. To correct those who refuse to believe what is really happening. If you can’t do it for me, do it for Elie Wiesel. Do it for the room of shoes. Do it for your own children, whose future is becoming shorter and shorter everyday.