Dear Ezra and Lian,
Despite your young ages, both of you have a tendency to let despair and hopelessness overtake you. You probably got it from me. Don’t ever lose hope. It can make you do very stupid things. It led to a huge mistake I made. Heroism exists on the edge of hope. In my life, when they have run out, I have not persevered. I gave up. Real heroes carry on.
I had come back to Canada from my last trip to Mizoram. I had spent the previous few years helping raise money and awareness about the famine called Mautam. Even though, my efforts were focused in the state of Mizoram, the famine extended to other states and into parts of Bangladesh and Burma. I will tell you another time about details of those struggles involved in trying to raise money and awareness; shipping food to help the victims of famine in North East India. Let me rather tell you what state I was in.
I was spent. My efforts were largely unappreciated. It was extraordinarily difficult to get things done in India. I had helped produce 6 separate documentaries, television pieces or radio interviews about the famine. Even though a ten minute documentary on TV’s CBC Sunday Report was broadcast across Canada, it did not result in a single penny being raised to help famine victims. Food and money was raised elsewhere, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to the need. I had interviewed parents who had buried their children due to disease and malnutrition. I met with people who were losing their eyesight or couldn’t walk due to hunger. Those still strong enough were travelling up to 10 km each way to find wild yams in the forest. I was personally nearing the point of bankruptcy. I had little money left that I could even borrow. There had been a couple of kidnapping threats made against you Ezra. The last 5 months of 2008, your mom and I were separated. Our marriage was falling apart. India’s Central Bureau of Investigation was monitoring my activities and interviewing my friends about me. My email was hacked. I had a police escort to the airport to make sure I left on a plane out of Mizoram. Ezra had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder less than 12 months earlier. He was really not getting the help he needed. Despite Ontario provincial government promises, there was no access to ABA therapy. You only got on a waiting list for services that never came. I was at the end of my rope. I was exhausted in every way.
While back in Canada, on 4 separate occasions, I was asked for help. The people in the neighbouring state of Manipur, especially in the districts along the Mizoram border were suffering even worse than those in Mizoram. The state government there was doing almost nothing to help. Hauzel Haukhum, the Chief Secretary of the Mizoram government (top bureaucrat) grew up in this area. He personally requested my assistance. I had contact with aid agencies and media in Canada. NGOs actively working in Manipur had already contacted me for assistance and invited me to join them. I said, “No” to all of them.
Midway through the next year, I was invited to go again. I asked how many had died. I was told approximately 10,000. Although, accurate records for deaths due to mass famine are never kept, it was just a guess. We don’t really know how many. I do know that I could I have kept a few more alive. Out of all the hundreds of thousands of famine relief and humanitarian aid workers and volunteers in this world, I was asked to help. I was asked because they were my people. I knew where they were. I knew how to help. I knew who to work with. I had a government invitation of assistance to help. I had a track record of successfully getting food and aid to people in the mountain villages in restricted areas. They asked me because I could have made a difference. They thought I cared enough to do something. Still, I said, “No”. Whether it’s 10 or a 100 or a 1000, it is more than 1. I may not have thrown anyone off a bridge. I may not have shot someone in cold blood. I may not have tortured anyone until they died or created an accident so that my enemy disappeared off the side of a mountain. No, what I did was far worse in magnitude. No amount of human effort or wealth can repay that.
The worst thing is that I really didn’t feel anything. When I made the decision, I knew the consequences would be the deaths of many people. Yet, I only felt exhausted. I didn’t feel sadness, remorse, guilt; absolutely nothing. It was so easy. I didn’t have to think twice about it. I felt I had a choice between my son and hundreds of thousands of unknown villagers in Manipur. I chose you, Ezra. I just let them die so I could have you. I wanted you to talk and have as normal a life as possible. I sacrificed the lives of others for that and I didn’t regret it at all. That is a terrible bridge to cross. No one can uncross that bridge. I’m on the other side now. The worst of it, is that there is no number. The blood of an unknown number of people is on my hands. It opened a door to a whole world of horrible possibilities. What wouldn’t I do for my kids? Now, I do not know. I wish I did.
Ezra, at the beginning of 2009, you were offered a place in the DIR/Floortime study at York University’s Milton and Ethel Harris Research Initiative (MEHRI). You would receive an experimental therapy for autism. Most of this therapy involved your Mom and me spending 20-30 hours a week playing with you. It was a special kind of play directed by you. We received 2 hours of training, practice and support per week. You responded amazingly well. You became a “shining star” of the program. “Coincidently” on Friday afternoons, quite often autism researchers, trainers, government bureaucrats would observe you through the one-way glass. They got to be regaled with stories of your progress. You went from a vocabulary around maybe 50 words when you were 5 to giving speeches this year in Grade 5. Your social interactions and abilities totally improved. In many ways, you were a new and happier kid. I’m so grateful that you received that therapy and that it helped you so much.
I believed I had a choice between helping you, Ezra or helping people in Manipur. It was a false choice. I cleared almost everything from life to help you Little Buddy. I didn’t have to do that. I could have done both things at the same time. I love both of you kids so much, but at that time, I made Ezra the most important thing in the world. You became the only thing that mattered to me.
Absolute despair drove me to that place. I lost hope. I made a terrible decision because I couldn’t see better futures for both Ezra and Manipur. The fear of losing Ezra put me in a place where I only wanted to do one thing; protect him. I only had hope for him. I gave up on India and the people there. Please don’t ever do that. If you ever need to get a new, better perspective, talk to me. I love you always, Dad
No matter what I have written in this letter, it never seems enough. It has been the most difficult of all the letters I have written to you. It never seems to adequately convey what I’m trying to say. It can’t capture my true feeling for you both. It doesn’t begin to plumb the depths of despair I felt at that time. I’m walking away from this letter knowing that I will return to this topic with you. It may be in a letter or personally. There’s more to be said, but right now I have run out of words to express it