The past week or so has been hard to watch.
COVID-19 cases are climbing rapidly. Hospitals are facing increasing numbers of children infected with the virus. Tension is high as schools, state governments, and parents face off across the country over mask mandates and the safest way for our kids to go to school.
Speaking of school, two school shootings in North Carolina this week have left at least one high school student dead. And as per usual when these tragedies occur there are the rumblings of a heated debate over gun control mounting on the horizon.
Then there’s Hurricane Ida. Louisiana got pounded yet again by a powerful and slow-moving storm that lashed it with high winds and a tremendous amount of rain. The levees held — a significant sign of improvement from the last catastrophic storm to torment the region — but there’s still millions of dollars of damage, a rising number of lives lost and homes destroyed, and the reality that tens of thousands of people are without power and dependent on an electricity grid that sustained tremendous damage.
As the storm has made its way north and pummeled New York and New Jersey with flash flooding, there’s growing concern over how prepared we are as a nation to deal with the ever-increasing intensity of these storms that will continue to come and whether or not we have the infrastructure to deal with the damage the storms will bring. Those questions lead us to yet another divisive debate over climate change — its legitimacy and our response to it.
Division. Everywhere. About everything.
And I haven’t even mentioned the absolute disaster of our troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.
We’ve all watched and listened to story after story of heartbreak and loss; tragedy and devastation as our country’s 20-year campaign has come to a cataclysmic halt. The Taliban’s mind-blowing swift takeover, the retreat of the Afghan army, the military weapons and equipment seemingly abandoned into the hands of terrorists, the panicked scenes of people rushing to be transported out of the country, and of course the attack on the Kabul airport that left 13 American soldiers and dozens of Afghans dead.
There are as many different feelings and emotions about all that’s happening in Afghanistan as there are people watching the tragedy unfold.
For years now, the war has been deeply unpopular with the American people as responsibility for what happens next has been passed from one president to another. Speculations are rampant over the choices of the Biden administration and the capacity for the United States to have done better.
Like most people, I am distraught over what I’ve seen and disappointed in the reality of our exit. But I also know that the intricacy of a departure from two decades of war in a region that is rife with complexity and complications is more than I can understand with the limited information available to me.
There’s judgement now and there will be more ahead. History will not look kindly on this moment.
And yet, as an average citizen, there is little and likely not anything that I can do to mitigate any of these multi-dimensional problems.
Except this one thing.
Thousands of Afghans are in the pipeline to be relocated to the United States. These are people who risked their lives to help our soldiers and their families who were under constant threat of violence and death. As brutal as the war in Afghanistan has been, it would have been worse without the help of these brave Afghan men and women.
So when they arrive here and join our communities, we have a responsibility to them. We owe them a warm welcome. We owe them hospitality. We owe them a sense of belonging.
There is so much that we cannot do in terms of what is unfolding in Afghanistan. But what we can do is accept those coming to our country from Afghanistan with grace and respect. It’s a way to bring some peace to the unrest — even if it is just one person at a time.
Cortney Stewart is a 2003 graduate of Lecanto High School. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and international affairs, a master’s degree in intercultural studies and is currently working on her Ph.D. in international conflict management. She most recently spent two years teaching and training students, teachers and government officials in Baghdad, Iraq. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.