{Mon 30 August 2021}   Take me under your wing

Take me under your wing

Images that make us feel

The viral image of 640 Afghan refugees packed into a cavernous US military plane has stuck with me these last two weeks. I could not find out how to get permission to use it here, but it was so widely shared that you’ve probably seen it already.

This picture called to mind strongly the biblical metaphors of God as a mother bird who protects her young with her wings and body.

This does not mean either that I equate the USA with God, or that I believe in their (or your) versions of g/God. It only means that I have been aware of the image and the metaphors and the powerful feelings they stir.

Together, they also reminded me of Bialik’s beautiful poem, Take me under your wing, which for me speaks directly to the fear and hope I see in the picture; see it below with a translation by my husband (mostly) and me (tweaking).

Harsh images we fear or avoid

Any of these figures might be female, of course,
but the symbolism is traditionally male.

In times of war, we expect to see media images of soldiers with guns. We see so many of these even during times of relative peace that we accept them as part of the definition of masculinity. We may call that version of masculinity toxic, seeing the guns as dangerous stand-ins for insecure virility, but too many of us are resigned to it. To the degree that we don’t push back, these images remain normative, what “must be” for humans to survive.

Images of victimhood also form part of the backdrop of our lives (perhaps because they justify the existence of the men with guns by showing a world in need of “strong defenders”). We are partly inured to these too, having become adept at deflecting our attention from crises that feel too far away for us to solve, or which require faith in unknown intermediaries if we do reach into our pockets.

Harsh images that break through and unite

However, there is something different about this moment. I feel that a different perception of humanity can take root, as the volume of disasters reported simultaneously from all over the globe creates a shared experience of dismay.

Images of desperate people picking their way gingerly through the shattered streets of #Beirut, or besieging #Kabul airport and overflowing the sides and rooves and bellies of planes, come on the heels of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter and #ExtinctionRebellion and #Covid19, with all of their terrible images. They also accompany an outpouring of cries for help from women and girls whose futures have overnight become unspeakably bleak.

All of these messages are powerful, and all have crossed borders, but the recent flood of #ClimateChange images (fire, flood, etc.) affecting all countries has broken through the Global North’s sense that disaster happens somewhere remote. People relate more to others’ distress when they can imagine it happening to them. That’s one theory, anyway.

The universal metaphor of refuge

Whatever the reasons for this new and fragile solidarity, I hope that it may grow to answer the 21st century’s yearning for non-judgemental succour; the kind that we imagine to be maternal.

I say “imagine” because I don’t think mothers are more capable of unconditional love than any other human demographic. Some of them manage it; many do not.

But I believe that almost all humans are capable of some degree of empathy, and art (photography, poetry and all the other forms) can open us to other people’s stories.

The Hebrew poet Haim Nachman Bialik immortalised the human longing for warm refuge in 1905 with his poem “Hachnisini Tachat Knafech”/”Take Me Under Your Wing”. Whatever one’s actual experience of mothering, this poignant cry of need, embedded in a trusting appeal for maternal tenderness, speaks to and for us all.

Take Me Under Your Wing

Take Me Under Your Wing (1905)
Haim Nachman Bialik (9 Jan 1873–4 Jul 1934)
Translated by Eyal Azulay and Tia Azulay

Take me under your wing,
Be to me a mother and a sister,
Let your breast shelter my head,
Be a nest for my lonely prayers.

In the merciful time, at twilight,
Bend your head and I’ll tell the secret of my torments:
They say there is youth in the world –
Where is my youth?

And another secret I will confess:
My soul has been seared by a flame;
They say there is love in the world –
What is love?

The stars deceived me,
There was a dream – but it too has passed;
Now I have nothing in the world –
I have not a thing.

Take me under your wing,
Be to me a mother and a sister,
Let your breast shelter my head,
Be a nest for my lonely prayers.

הַכְנִיסִינִי תַּחַת כְּנָפֵךְ
חיים נחמן ביאליק

הַכְנִיסִינִי תַּחַת כְּנָפֵךְ,
וַהֲיִי לִי אֵם וְאָחוֹת,
וִיהִי חֵיקֵךְ מִקְלַט רֹאשִׁי,
קַן-תְּפִלּוֹתַי הַנִּדָּחוֹת.

וּבְעֵת רַחֲמִים, בֵּין-הַשְּׁמָשׁוֹת,
שְׁחִי וַאֲגַל לָךְ סוֹד יִסּוּרָי:
אוֹמְרִים, יֵשׁ בָּעוֹלָם נְעוּרִים
הֵיכָן נְעוּרַי?

וְעוֹד רָז אֶחָד לָךְ אֶתְוַדֶּה:
נַפְשִׁי נִשְׂרְפָה בְלַהֲבָהּ;
אוֹמְרִים, אַהֲבָה יֵשׁ בָּעוֹלָם –
מַה-זֹּאת אַהֲבָה?

הַכּוֹכָבִים רִמּוּ אוֹתִי,
הָיָה חֲלוֹם – אַךְ גַּם הוּא עָבָר;
עַתָּה אֵין לִי כְלוּם בָּעוֹלָם –
אֵין לִי דָבָר.

הַכְנִיסִינִי תַּחַת כְּנָפֵךְ,
וַהֲיִי לִי אֵם וְאָחוֹת,
וִיהִי חֵיקֵךְ מִקְלַט רֹאשִׁי,
קַן-תְּפִלּוֹתַי הַנִּדָּחוֹת.

Flying into Hope
by Tia Azulay,2019

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