If Not Now, When?

R, who cleans my house once a week, is scared. I told her a couple of weeks ago that he wasn’t going to win and she looked relieved and told me that’s what everyone she works for had told her as well. Mes Patricia, Mes Jenny, Mes this one and that one. I’m sure she still refers to me as Mes Mary to other people even though I have tried to break her of this depressing habit. I remember when people who worked in the house had to call the white folk with the respectful Miz or Mr. before the name.

I don’t want that in my house.

Today, when R unlocked the door she was wide-eyed. I was gone last week right after the election, so it was the first time I’d seen her since the world fell apart for fortunate liberals like myself and less fortunate household workers like R and her family, who have lived here, worked here, paid their dues in every sense of the word and are now scared out of their minds that the wall is going up, and they are out on their butts.

Will this happen? I hope not. If it happens what are people like myself going to do? Will we just stand by and let this happen?

How do “they” plan to implement this? Myself, I am here in America because on my maternal Grandmother’s side, a kindly priest told my Great Grandfather who was a scholar and someone who corrected the Torah, that there was going to be a pogrom. He packed up his family and was gone in a week. All of them. I don’t know any other details other than this.

Yet I am curious about the details. I know, for instance, a little bit of how the Final Solution happened in Eastern Europe. Lists were obtained from (ugh) places like the Jewish Social Service agencies (we know this thanks to scholars like Lucy Davidawitz and Hannah Arendt). Names were turned over, doors were knocked on, people were rounded up. And 90 percent of Jews, gypsies and other undesirables in Europe went up in smoke.

I don’t think “they” are planning anything like a final solution to the immigration problem in this country. But “they” are planning something. We are watching it happen before our very eyes. And most of us, including myself, are doing nothing but wringing our hands.

People I know are marching on Washington. People I know are blabbing on Facebook. People I know are tweeting, going to demonstrations. But as far as I know, no one has come up with a solution from our end.

“They” meanwhile are planning on doing something. What that something is, I don’t rightly know.

R and I are standing in the small front hallway of my house. Henry is jumping up and down barking because he knows when R comes the vacuum cleaner will be on and he hates the sound of the vacuum cleaner more than he hates the sound of a skateboard. Usually we just flee for the morning, my fortunate dog and myself.

“I’m so scared, Mes Mary,” says R. “My daughter she say, what we going to do mommy?”

What are we going to do?

“I’ll help you,” I say, and as we stand there with Henry barking, I realize I will help her. But how much will I help her? I honestly do not know.

Will I hide her and her family? Yes, I decide on the spot, though I don’t say anything. I imagine her moving in my tiny little casa. They can stay in the two rooms downstairs, and we’ll stay upstairs. Henry will learn not to bark at them so much. And we’ll just deal with it. We’ll just deal with it because we have to.

I’ll also, I decide, give her money. But how much money? Like my house, my bank account is small. I can just hear my husband saying, “Marcus, for the love of God—“

I look her in the eye. Henry has calmed down by this point. I take this as a good sign. The front hall is as quiet as a church when no one is praying.
“I’ll help you. We’ll figure it out! I promise!”

R puts one hand on her heart. I clasp the other one.

Our eyes lock, our hands squeeze each other.

I think of the famous lines from The Ethics of the Fathers:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I
And, if not now, when?

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