“Make them know.”
In Jesmyn Ward’s award-winning novel, Salvage the Bones, Skeetah, a poor Mississippi teenage boy whispered that phrase to his treasured pit bull, China, before sending her into battle against her nemesis, Kilo. I found it to be the most gripping line in a terrific book.
Salvage the Bones is a fierce story of a poor family as told through the eyes of a teenage girl, motherless, surrounded by men and boys, secretly pregnant, and trying to understand life as Hurricane Katrina warms up, bears down, and then inundates their world. Among many compelling topics the novel explores is the idea of invisibility, which is where the phrase “make them know” leapt off the page and demanded my attention. Unnoticed, overlooked, neglected—those are not good words, and undeniably not a good feeling.
My little family of four lost our home eleven years ago today in Hurricane Katrina, and although we surprisingly have fond memories of that great national tragedy due to a heightened sense of community and the opportunity to meet great-hearted strangers full of love, the raging waters surely had some of our tears sprinkled in. And, to be honest, from time to time, a little bit of spit in it projected in anger toward institutions including but not limited to governments and insurance companies, pardon the legalese.
And I’ll tell you, if you ever want to get punched by someone from Mississippi (and who doesn’t?), then say that you thought Hurricane Katrina was just in New Orleans. Please know that it wasn’t.
Make them know.
When you mix marginalization and anger and leave it in the microwave too long, you start to hear those words building in your heart. And more often than not, they emerge violently.
So why does my family have fond memories of a tragedy in our lives? Despite the infuriating institutions that failed us? Despite the relatively speaking inordinate attention our New Orleans neighbors received? It is because we were loved. We were known.
In this tragic world of ours, where the recipe for violence is constantly prepared in the kitchen, the best advice I can offer is to be about the work of making others known. Expecting others to do it themselves is not healthy for anyone.