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Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Flashbacks

Diaspora Has Three Aspects

March 2023

A diaspora is the removal of people from the area in which they live, and perhaps have lived not just for generations but for millennia. Diaspora means to scatter about, but against the peoples’ first choice to remain where they are and to scatter about against their will. Various examples exist throughout history. An ancient one is the removal of the Jewish people from Judea. More modern ones are the removal of people from Africa in the seventeenth into the nineteenth centuries. Other example is the twentieth century and current movement of the Syrian people. The exodus of people from the Middle East to Europe comes from both an economic situation—people leaving extreme poverty, and a political one—people leaving ethnic or religious persecution. Diaspora has yet another aspect, the ones I just mentioned and also a current one: a climate-caused diaspora. This means a diaspora has three aspects.

This climate-caused movement, that is, diaspora, is occurring now and will continue for a while. How long I do not know, perhaps as a wild guess, two hundred years. Some regions of the planet are becoming too dry for people to grow crops or water animals they use for food or market, and, thus, even for people to survive. Other regions are and will become so flooded that previous livable places will be under water. As some glaciers melt, ocean levels rise and the world’s coastal lands flood. Half the world’s people live within 200 kilometers, or 124 miles, of the ocean. Think about that and think about the fact that there are cities below sea level—Jericho, New Orleans, and Copenhagen to mention just a few coastal ones. What will happen to them? What will happen to those cities and other heavy population areas that are just feet above sea level?

I’ve driven through parts of Florida to see ocean water a foot deep across streets and flooding up onto people’s lawns. As I commented, my friend said that that was just sometimes. “Just sometimes” makes me not want to live there ever. Further inland, I see temperatures of 120 F. in Arizona cities, or above 100 F. for two or three weeks continuously. What happens if or when the heat rises more? It makes me feel lucky to live in Alaska. However, even there, or especially there, I’ve flown over glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska to see their annual recession. I hear people not worried about any of this and I wonder how long we will keep not looking, and not seeing these situations as a potential problem.

I think of another kind of diaspora and borrow this essay I wrote on the topic. The following is a portion about the diaspora of war in my book, The Soul of My Soldier, Sanger, CA: Familius, 2015.

Why do the nations rage so furiously together?
Psalms, 11.1.2. In Handel’s The Messiah.

Diaspora: dispersion, scattering, coming from a Greek word meaning to sow. Originally applied to Jewish people who were dispersed from their homeland, it is also applied to other groups—the diaspora of White Russians fleeing their homeland, a diaspora of African Americans to northern U.S. cities, or Hispanics from Mexico to the States. I also think about the diaspora of soldiers. They are trained, sent off as units in World War II, as individuals to Vietnam, as units to Iraq and Afghanistan. From World War II they came home by boat, a week or two of forced togetherness, a chance to weep, to talk, to hope for the idyllic home they left behind. From Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, they arrive by plane. They sleep, or sit with the 1000-yard stare. Before they realize their surroundings and can talk with their buddies, the plane lands. They have mere hours to change from battlefield to billboards, city noise, and hundreds of people in a mall.

When I leave my home in Alaska—off the road system, remote, 400 people—and go to New Orleans or New York, I am lost. I don’t speak the language of these scurrying, preoccupied people. I feel confused, defensive and have a wish for everyone to evaporate. I revert to old habits developed from living in New York City or London. I pause to view store windows to see who may be behind me; I don’t give a hoot what they’re displaying. Looking can pass as normal. Only if I flatten myself against the window or a wall and don’t move, only if I refuse to leave my apartment or house am I outside the frame that would make someone take notice. I can roil inside, but if it leaks out before I calm the oceans, it is a problem.

If I feel disconnected in my own country, what must a soldier feel when he comes home? Occasionally when I look at or listen to my husband, I see a man who was at war. Most times I see someone as normal as the rest of us. I see someone who, at his worst moment, wouldn’t qualify for a fraction of a PTSD label. But still…there are those moments that let me know I married a veteran.

When I look at veterans, I see a scatter, a disconnect. It’s as if there are parts of a skeleton that needs reassembling. It’s not a foot here or a femur there, but the hand of an emotion, an eyebrow tormented by anger. I can’t see what courses through my husband’s feelings when I walk up behind him and he jumps and snaps at me. I often see it in the morning as he sits in the rocking chair staring out the window sipping his coffee, his dog or cat by him. Most web their way through that veil and heal themselves. Some, though, are scattered, dispersed within themselves, a diaspora. Somehow, they need to re-sow the seeds of their emotions and thoughts, grow new roots, sprout new plants, and heal the connection from the intensity of battle to the calmness of today.

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