by Samara Gaev
“The children are always ours, every single one of them, all over the globe; and I am beginning to suspect that whoever is incapable of recognizing this may be incapable of morality”
I am nursing my 6 month old daughter as I write this. Her breath slows as our nervous systems co-regulate. I pray she doesn’t feel the shattering of my heart from the ricochettes of grief I’ve somatized from mothers everywhere. No matter the languages we lull our babies to sleep in, her pain is my pain. Her prayers are my prayers. Her children, my children. As wars we never asked for rage, and catch like wildfires in our names, we sing to our babies.
And what if we refuse to relinquish our humanity? What if we believe that history is a collective project and that we, with our mouths open wide and our hearts to the sky, can sculpt the scriptures that become our future’s memories?
My grandmother raised me to taste the freedom songs she sang with her sisters in Auschwitz. She spared me no details of the chambers and skeletons and eyes of soldiers no older than boys. She was younger then than I am now. She knew survival. Loss. Adaptation. Trauma. War.
Her family hid behind a wall in their Warsaw ghetto apartment. Her father was sick. His worsening cough gave them away. They shot him, execution style, in front of his daughters as they took them to the camps, their grief flooding the floors of a home they would never return to. “Anytime you leave”, she would tell us growing up, “take your passport. You never know if they’ll let you return.” I remember tracing the numbers on her arm as a little girl, reckoning with violence. Hatred. Murder. Forgiveness. Trying to grasp it all as I memorized her tattoo with my fingertips.
I think about the days she didn’t die by the weight of a trembling finger on the trigger, pressed against her temple.
Solílei shifts in her sleep, her infant instincts inching her closer and closer to me, until we are braided limbs and rhythms and heartbeats. She looks like her father. And his father. And his–who left when he was born, back to Jamaica. My daughter’s grandpa spent his summers picking cotton on the plantation where his grandparents were sharecroppers. He lives alone now in that same small town of South Carolina. On purpose. To “be with his trauma”. An 80 year old man dancing with his shadow on plantations. His larger than life size paintings never don’t have cotton in them. I draw along the delicacy of my daughter’s Black Jewish body on my breast, and pray that her wingspan will transcend the weight of centuries of persecution and survival on both sides.
I labored in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s murder with my first in 2020. Born at home under quarantine while COVID ravaged my city, this country, the globe. Passed through the places in me where trauma still lives from the violence I survived. To give birth to my daughter—her sacred brown body scriptured with prayer.
I think about the day I didn’t die by the weight of a trembling finger on the trigger, pressed against my temple.
I wonder what she might have absorbed as she moved through me to get here. And if here is a place I want to offer her. Where we kneel on Black men’s necks and send our dollars to decimate generations to come. Where we justify genocide with genocide. As sirens wail and mothers wail, I pray my milk won’t curdle.
Her father’s father died when he was still a boy. His mother too. Addiction raiding his Harlem home like the Nazi’s my grandmother’s. The architecture of his absence etched from trauma. The beat of his bravado, a buoy.
I think about the days he didn’t die by the weight of a trembling finger on the trigger, pressed against his temple.
Hurt people hurt people, I whispered like a mantra to myself as I raised this baby alone, in isolation. Mahala calls Solílei’s father Daddy now. His father, her grandpa. They paint on a shared page of his sketchbook in the heat of early summer, running their colors together with a brush of water, singing a song they made up about the sky. I watch his gaze follow a shifting cloud, his eyes water slightly through his smile. He always looks a little sad, even when he smiles. I wonder if he imagined he’d be painting rainbows with a three year old in Brooklyn at 80 while holding his newborn granddaughter when he was counting cotton 7 decades ago. He dreams of Jamaica. Wants to die there–where his father ran to. No matter how much scar tissue collects, we can’t build fortresses around our hearts for very long without the consequence of callused castles crumbling.
I am nursing my 6 month old daughter as I write this. Her breath slows as our nervous systems co-regulate. I pray she doesn’t feel the shattering of my heart from the ricochettes of grief I’ve somatized from mothers everywhere. No matter the languages we lull our babies to sleep in, their pain is my pain. their prayers are my prayers. Their children, my children. As wars we never asked for rage, and catch like wildfires in our names, we sing to our babies.
Mine are bronze & coppered. Cast from the clay of survival. With ancestors whose bodies extinguished at the hands of oppressors. For being Black. For being Jews. Their names mean forgiveness. What will I tell my daughters, who walk with the complexity of persecution and resilience in their DNA, about the bombs dropped on Gaza? About the babies born to war and left for ash? About our leaders who lay together, in beds of tyranny and terror?
She deepens her tiny breath with such intention it seems—She’s teaching me, reminding me to ground.
Slow down. Breathe. Find my center.
What if we refuse to relinquish our humanity? What if we believe that history is a collective project and that we, with our mouths open wide and our hearts to the sky, can sculpt the scriptures that become our future’s memories?
When my grandmother died, the only thing I wanted from her home was a little embroidered piece of art that always hung on her wall. A little girl on a swing, beside an empty swing she held onto, like a friend–though no one’s there. The words read, “When you’re not around, I just pretend you’re here.” It’s smoke stained now from a fire I survived 6 years ago in my home. It hangs on our ancestor wall, between photos of of my daughters’ great grandparents, sitting on their porch with smiles so deep no one could rob them of their joy. I imagine her here today, as I pass her needlepointed heirloom and I know she would rage and grieve and protest. How dare we.
Genocide is happening in Palestine. And civilians are not their governments. And when a government as powerful as Israel ruthlessly bombs the mothers, children, and elders of Gaza, who have nowhere to go, in the name of defense, we are living at the epicenter of a humanitarian catastrophe. And there is no call more urgent than the call for ceasefire that beckons us all. In the name of my grandmother, who survived flogging, gas chambers and hunger, how dare we?
Samara Gaev (she/her) is a Brooklyn-based activist, educator, facilitator, theater director, performer, and mama. Samara has been a Senior Fellow at Center for Whole Communities since 2011, as well as the Founder and Artistic Director of Truthworker Theatre Company. Her work, which examines & challenges constructions of power, privilege, the prison industrial complex, & systems of oppression that not only excuse, but enable cycles of violence, has taken her from Zimbabwe to Scotland & from coast to coast. Gaev is committed to reframing story through creative engagement that translates the most pressing issues of our time into stunning artistry, catalyzing audiences to activate the transformation they wish to cultivate within themselves & their communities. Under her direction, Truthworker Theatre Company has written, devised, & self-produced three original hip-hop theatre productions through the lens of a dozen youth directly impacted by mass-incarceration.