So many people walk around this earth with no idea
how to communicate their gifts to the world.
But you, dear writer, have already found your language.
Now it’s simply time to trust YOUR voice.
With love and total belief in you,
Last Thursday, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) raided several agricultural processing plants across Mississippi and arrested 680 individuals, mainly Latino immigrants, who were deemed to be working “unlawfully” at the plants.
Thursday also happened to be the first day of school in Mississippi. This meant that many children were not picked up from school or daycare at the end of their day and many went home from school to find doors locked and their parents absent. Some of these kids returned back to their schools in desperation, where they slept in makeshift shelters, put together by school staff and volunteers. Others were taken in by strangers or relatives.
When my kids were younger, I remember having to leave work in a rush and navigate the traffic hour in order to get to them on time. On the rare occasion that I was a few minutes late, I remember my heart pounding all the way to the school along with the hurt on their tiny faces once I arrived. “Where were you?” They would ask, trying to suppress tears. “I got scared.” Those were the most painful minutes.
Those were the most painful minutes.
I also know something about this from personal experience. My family escaped Iran on foot in 1981, when I was only 10 years old. In writing my memoir, I realized the scariest part of our escape to safety, was the time that I was separated from my parents for about six to eight hours.
We had just arrived in Turkey, in the middle of the night, after several days and nights in the mountains. We needed to split up into two cars for the final leg of our journey, so I was sent ahead in a separate car to our next destination. My mother and two sisters followed the next morning.
It’s important to note that by this time I had already lived through the violent Islamic Revolution in 1978, which had no shortage of bloodshed, I had experienced the horrors of war when Iran went into battle with Iraq in 1980, there had been soldiers inside my house, I had seen dead bodies on our porch and had guns pointed at our heads during our escape. Still, all of that was less scary than being separated from my parents for those few hours.
I could tell you about why people take these risks. I could tell you about the gut-wrenching, decision-making process that leads a family into unknown territory. I could tell you about how bad things actually have to get before one decides to escape the only place they’ve ever called home. I’m writing a whole book about it, but I won’t get into that here. I’m also not here to offer sweeping immigration reform solutions. I’m not here to speak about who is to blame, or who’s at fault for our “immigration problem” in the first place. I’m also not here to explain why these arrests are different than, let’s say a DUI arrest.
I want to talk to you about trauma instead. I have worked as a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California since 2008 and I have worked primarily with trauma survivors since 2012. I have focused my life and career on helping individuals heal from the effects of adverse experiences in their lives and can tell you that trauma lives inside our bodies long after the traumatic event ends and the shock wears off.
I can tell you that for those children who were separated from their parents and for all of the thousands who are currently detained at our borders, this trauma will have long-lasting effects. Trauma shows up in my office daily as depression, anxiety, addiction, and suicidal ideation. Early childhood trauma also shows up as high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems well into adulthood.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control has found that adverse childhood experiences have been linked to risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and early death.
I am writing a memoir about this period of my life. A lot of what my family went through in the late 70s Iran, is painful to remember and to write about. Writing has been a slow process for this reason and I had expected that. But my response to writing about this brief period of separation was surprising even to myself. The pain felt current, unresolved, and raw as if my body had held onto it all of this time, waiting for a safe enough place, to finally put it all down.
The night I was separated from my parents was the worst night of my life. Thirty-eight years later, I sobbed while writing about it. I realized that I have never been able to think about those few hours without a feeling of panic rising in my chest. Not once. I built a wall around my heart that night and shoved down all emotions deep inside of me. It would take decades of corrective connections and years of therapy before I had access to any softness within myself once again.
However, we might justify these arrests, however, “short term” we might think the separation will last, these events will be traumatic for those parents and their children and will have long term effects. On Friday, 300 of those arrested Thursday were released, which begs the question: Why were they arrested in the first place?
We should all care more. How we treat people matters. Are we contributing to trauma or are we perpetuating it? Is this who we are? Are we willing and ready to deal with the outcomes of these events for years and generations to come? Because as a nation, we will have to eventually deal with what happens next, one way or another. All of us bear responsibility and all of us pay a price. We can’t look away. Please don’t look away.
Mahshid Fashandi Hager is a therapist turned writer. In her work as a therapist, she offers treatment and support to survivors of trauma. She first began writing as a way to process her own traumatic history of immigration but, soon discovered the power of sharing her stories with others. In her upcoming memoir, No Way Back, Mahshid takes us on a journey back through her childhood as she recalls her family’s trials and tribulations during the Iranian revolution, the war with Iraq, and her family’s subsequent, inevitable escape from their home. Mahshid’s story serves as a resource for anyone who aims to understand the plight of refugees and immigrant families in our world today.
There are all kinds of words
Flying round in my head
Most best left unsaid.
Which ones to let out
Is a struggle to find
When I’m trying too hard
They’re like flies in my mind.
Put on the spot
I’m liable to blurt
And those words, uncensored
Go nowhere, or hurt.
“So what, they’re honest,”
Says the narcissist self.
“Take a risk, you’ll get braver,”
Says my devious elf.
Then something quieter
Begins to come through–
A gentle reminder:
“It’s not all about you.”
Some birdsong came in
And as I calmed down and listened
The chatter receded
Revealing something that glistened.
“It’s the seed of discernment,”
Said a voice from below,
“Listening, not talking
Is the way you should go.
Your mind makes sound judgments
When it’s attuned to your heart
Perceiving the source
Is playing your part.
All of that static
That roils around in your head
Is when you’re trapped up
In your thinking instead.
They call that ‘judgmental’
Denouncing from above
But the flow of good judgment
Comes from your love.
When your feet are connected
With the rest of the planet
And you’re no longer acting
Like you’re the only one on it,
When you’re thrown off-kilter
By all the words in your head
It’s time for a croissant
And birdsong instead.”
Nicola Ranson’s father was a flower fairy, (no, really, look up Cicely Mary Barker’s Daisy Fairy) her mother a descendant of Rob Roy MacGregor. Because of (or despite) this illustrious ancestry, she developed a yen for the mystical and the feistiness to survive some of the consequences. Her survival skills were honed and supported in the gardens of the U.K., the croissant shops of Quebec, and the suburban wilderness of Southern California. She learned to listen by becoming a therapist. She has written for Stage Directions, Advanced Computer Entertainment, Somatic Psychotherapy Today, as well as problem columns for people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease and those seeking the wisdom of fairies. Nicola lives in Leucadia with her filmmaker husband Ron, and a visiting backyard rabbit who hasn’t been informed about her MacGregor ancestry. She’s now working on her memoir “A Slice of Orange.”
San Diego Memoir Showcase
I’m in my home office getting ready to hit ‘submit’ on the computer screen. Submitting my work for our local Memoir Showcase is as scary for me today as it was that first time I submitted work in June of 2017. At that time my memoir was simply an outline, a dream.
I have weeded through several scenes saved in my documents, trimmed and edited a few and now decided on the ones to submit. But there are other scenes I read through and ponder. Here is the scene that, while writing it, I often had to stop typing and go outside to stare at the sky. Huge gulping sobs came from deep inside of me as I trembled on my patio. I was inconsolable. I had written about the birth of my first son in the sweltering heat of New Orleans in 1967. Remembering that night, alone and petrified, knowing I would have to leave my baby there was overwhelming. Writing it was excruciating. My heart ached for that young girl.
Another scene makes me cringe while reading it. This scene with my ex-husband on a miserable hot steamy night in Mississippi brought me to my knees when I first wrote it. I remember unchecked tears streaming down my face as I tapped away at my keyboard, my shoulders feeling as if someone was beating on them. His angry face still as real today as it was on that night over fifty years ago. A black fury overcame me as I pushed away from my desk. How dare he treat me like that? I questioned all these years later. I wanted to hug that sad young woman who thought this was to be her life forever.
Ah, and here is the scene when I meet my beloved second husband. Once again, the day was in late summer. The sun is hot, my sons are there racing for soccer balls, and my life is about to change in ways I would never have been able to predict. I love this scene and remember as I typed it how my heartbeat reliving those first words, those first moments that would result in love so beyond reason that it would knock to me to my knees and take me to heights I had never dreamed. I rewrote that scene over and over and loved my husband more with each revised piece. I wanted to tell that young woman ‘you are thinking with your heart, and it is the smartest thing you will ever do.’
Another scene makes me laugh out loud. Me, in my thirties, flying across the Coronado bridge in my yellow Volkswagen bug stuffed to the brim with our five kids along with towels and beach toys for a day at the beach. As I typed, I remembered the wind in our hair as we sailed over the bridge singing at the top of our lungs along with the Bee Gees’ “Stayin Alive.” I can feel the golden sun burning my shoulders as I l sit in my bikini on an old quilt surrounded by my ocean wet giggling kids. I see my children gobbling sandy sandwiches and cookies, all talking at once. Tears for what once was run down my cheeks. Oh, to have one of those days again. That summer was my halcyon summer, and I didn’t even know it.
Okay, time to stop reminiscing, reading through my writing, living again as that young and sometimes fearless woman. I could sit here and do that for days. After all, there are seventy summers and countless tiny scenes that, patched together, make as colorful a quilt as any glorious midsummer sunset I have ever seen.
As I write memories, I relive them. I feel the sun. I feel the love, the sadness, the joy. The heft of my newborn sons in my arms, my Grammy’s fleeting kiss on my cheek, the chilly indifference from my mother, my crippling fear of my ex-husband crawl through me again.
I smell the scents of summer, my sons’ wet hair, Coppertone, freshly mowed grass, chicken sizzling on the grill. I bite into the first peach of the summer again, taste the salt of my lover’s skin, sip sun tea. I hear the crash of waves at the beach, my sons’ young voices calling “Mom,” our dog barking, my Daddy’s voice, my beloved husband whispering he’ll “love me forever” the first time.
I marvel at the gift of writing those memories. Time does stand still, if for a short spell, because when I write it, I relive it. Is that not the best gift of all? I will continue writing my story as there are many more summers to revisit, some wretched, but most splendid.
Okay, here goes. I click on submit. Good luck to me and good luck to all the writers who submitted.
Recently retired after 35 years as a regional sales representative for a national title insurance company, Laura left the corporate world and plunged headlong into writing her memoir in 2017. She has completed the Memoir Writing Certificate Program with Master Writing Coach Marni Freedman and currently serves as President of the San Diego Memoir Writers Association. She has won a place in the San Diego Memoir Showcase twice with scenes from her memoir. Her scene, “Secret Son,” was published in the anthology, Shaking The Tree: Brazen. Short.Memoir, in 2018. Along with SDMWA, Laura is also a member of the International Women’s Writing Guild, Thought Leaders Who Write in San Diego, and San Diego Writers, Ink. Recently Laura was interviewed by Dani Shapiro for her Family Secrets Podcast.
Laura’s memoir in progress is You’ll Forget This Ever Happened.: The Story of a Mother’s Love and Secret She Never Forgot. For more information, please visit Laura’s website and listen to her Dani Shapiro podcast by clicking here.
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