Start of school year is a time to re­mem­ber the up­rooted

The National - News - - OPINION - DEB­O­RAH LINDSAY WIL­LIAMS

Did you feel a strong breeze ear­lier this week and worry for a minute that one of the many hur­ri­canes whip­ping through the At­lantic had some­how found its way to the Gulf?

Don’t worry. It wasn’t a hur­ri­cane, just an enor­mous sigh of re­lief from par­ents whose chil­dren fi­nally went back to school on Septem­ber 10. A few schools had started their year be­fore Eid Al Adha, but for many chil­dren, this sum­mer hol­i­day was the long­est of their short lives. It felt even longer for their par­ents.

A long sum­mer hol­i­day might sound de­li­cious at the out­set: no one yearns for the early morn­ings, or the hunt for the miss­ing PE kit in the 30 sec­onds be­fore you have to walk out of the door, and the ab­sence of home­work-re­lated grip­ing cre­ates a blissful si­lence.

It’s all great, those first weeks, when ev­ery­one is full of plans and ac­tiv­i­ties.

That en­ergy lasts maybe three weeks, maybe a month, but then en­thu­si­asm wanes. Even if you’re trav­el­ing to new cities or spend­ing time vis­it­ing far­away fam­ily, the ab­sence of rou­tine starts to wear thin, as does spend­ing time in the close quar­ters of­ten ne­ces­si­tated by fam­ily trips. A fam­ily trip, just to clar­ify, is not the same as a hol­i­day.

The for­mer usu­ally in­volves chil­dren and fre­quently restau­rants that serve things like “chicken fin­gers”. A hol­i­day means you’re trav­el­ling on your own sched­ule, and don’t have to get any­where near a chicken fin­ger (for the record, chick­ens do not have fin­gers. They do not even have op­pos­able thumbs).

This sum­mer’s hol­i­days went on for so long that one of my chil­dren was heard to say that he couldn’t wait for school to start. When that first day fi­nally ar­rived, my kids went off with­out grum­bling, crisp and tidy in their new uni­forms, their satchels stocked with pen­cils and pens.

I won’t lie. I was de­lighted to see them go. And then as I wan­dered through my empty apart­ment, rev­el­ling in the fact that no one was ask­ing me for a snack, for a ride to the mall, for an­other snack, I re­alised how lucky we were.

You may re­mem­ber that in the weeks be­fore school started, Na­ture seemed in­tent on show­ing hu­man­ity how quickly all that we take for granted can be erased: wild­fires burned from Los An­ge­les up into Bri­tish Columbia; the strong­est earth­quake in a cen­tury shook Mex­ico; Hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma dec­i­mated islands in the Caribbean and wal­loped the south­ern United States; mon­soons in In­dia, Nepal and Bangladesh killed thou­sands.

That’s just in the last three weeks and hur­ri­cane sea­son is only just start­ing. Luck­ily, the US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency has re­moved any dis­cus­sion of cli­mate sci­ence from its web­site, thus eras­ing any links be­tween in­creas­ingly fe­ro­cious hur­ri­canes and the ris­ing tem­per­a­tures of the oceans.

Clearly, then, we should con­tinue to pave over all the pos­si­ble wet­lands we can find, be­cause houses and re­sort com­plexes make great buf­fers against flood­wa­ters.

Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple have been dis­placed in re­cent weeks due to ex­treme and un­ex­pected weather, and many of those peo­ple may dis­cover that they don’t have homes to re­turn to when the floods and fires re­cede.

Are we fac­ing an­other stream of refugees – weather refugees – who will join the world’s ris­ing tide of dis­placed hu­man­ity? These up­rooted peo­ple have to drift ac­cord­ing to whims of gov­ern­ments, when they only want a safe har­bour, a way to re-an­chor them­selves to the world.

It was against the back­drop of these cli­mac­tic up­heavals that the sim­ple fact of go­ing to school – of hav­ing a school to go to – be­came some­thing to be grate­ful for: the ease with which we were able to move from the aim­less sum­mer hol­i­days and into the sta­bil­ity of a school-day rou­tine.

I am re­minded, as we set­tle into our school-year rhythm, of what Si­mone Weil once said: “Be­ing rooted is per­haps the most im­por­tant and least recog­nised need of the hu­man soul.”

I can’t af­ford to send all the dis­placed chil­dren to school, but surely those of us with the un­re­mark­able lux­ury of sta­bil­ity can do more to help those who have been up­rooted?

Are we fac­ing an­other stream of ‘weather refugees’ who will join the world’s ris­ing tide of dis­placed hu­man­ity?

AP

Hur­ri­cane Irma has left a trail of de­struc­tion at schools and homes that will be felt for weeks, if not months, to come

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