Silent witnesses of history and what they saw

Silent witnesses of history and what they saw

I’ve written about a lot of issues in this column. I’m usually at my kitchen chair as I tap out words on an iPhone note. My office still isn’t done in the new house, or I could be sitting there at my sturdy library table desk. Either way I’m never uncomfortable — always caffeinated, alive and alert.

I often don’t decide what I want to write about until I sit down. Some topics I refrain from writing about, and others I’ve dipped my toe into tenderly, carefully. The ones I’ve waded into mean something to me: immigration, racism, Mexico, religion, politics. I intersperse those columns with ones about family, George and everyday life.

I used to watch news every day, tucking an hour of it under my belt — maybe more if I’m being honest. I don’t do that anymore, sometimes turning it on for 10 minutes. Most days I never turn it on. It’s saved my life to not ingest that much information. We’re overloaded and weren’t meant for that much consumption. It can change you.

It doesn’t mean I don’t stay in the loop.

George’s life, as I’ve chronicled in “TOÑO LIVES,” was enough hardship for me to ingest for a lifetime. When cable came through Holmes County the year we got married, we were able to see the Gulf War begin — live on TV. I’ll never forget the lit-up trails of artillery fire as Bernard Shaw reported live with CNN. From there on out, the information began pumping through our systems, live and in screaming color, until the internet overran even that. Today we have a billion terabytes of data running through our veins.

A 25-year-old current U.S. airman set himself on fire in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington the other day. The last words on his lips were “Free Palestine.” His choice to end his life in this way was shocking.

“My name is Aaron Bushnell. I am an active-duty member of the United States Air Force, and I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all. This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal,” he said.

I looked up “famous” self-immolations and found photos I recognized including the Buddhist monk and the man who doused himself in front of the defense secretary’s office at the Pentagon, both protesting the Vietnam War.

I believe we become hardened to what is going on outside our country, sometimes to what’s going on inside our country as well. We pass by a news blurb and see someone has lit themself on fire or that the death toll in Gaza has risen to nearly 30,000 people. Or Syria. Or the Uyghurs in China. Or the children who have been murdered in classrooms in our own backyard.

We sip our coffee and carry on, even on the days we read about the man searching for bits of his family that had been blown up. He sifted in the rubble of his building and gathered their parts up, carefully collecting them, gleaning, arranging them so he could bury them.

And we stay silent because we don’t know what else to do, because we’re too full of information. Too full. But we shouldn’t be afraid of disagreement. There should be no disagreement on killing. We should speak up, say something out loud that means something, even if loud voices roar back at us, even if it changes nothing.

I’ve written on children in cages at the border and received hateful comments, documented my son-in-law’s journey from Afghanistan to a refugee camp in Greece to the U.S., where he now resides. I’ve written on the aftermath of pulling out of Afghanistan and what Sediq’s family faced, as well as George’s perilous journey of crossing the Mexican border. I have written on my brother being gay and dying of AIDS — all things most folks don’t want to talk about because it’s uncomfortable. Maybe we stay silent because religion has taught us to.

I don’t feel competent enough to say much about what’s happening in Palestine, but I know how I feel — and can report what are facts. Because despite what anyone says, a life for a life for a lifetimes one million is no way for this world to continue. And I fear we’re too far down that road to ever climb back out. And if I don’t speak now, even if I’m the only one who reads these words, my voice will fade into the echoes of history, just another person who witnessed what happened and said nothing.

This one is for posterity.

Melissa Herrera is a published author and opinion columnist. She is a curator of vintage mugs and all things spooky, and her book, “TOÑO LIVES,” can be found at For inquiries, to purchase her book or anything else on your mind, email her at or find her in the thrift aisles.

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