For two days, small groups of women went out on the streets of Kabul to demonstrate for women’s rights and for their inclusion in the Taliban government. The articles I read didn’t say they were demonstrating against the Taliban per se, or the new government. They were demonstrating for women. For equal rights.

Their courage is indescribable.

They were mostly young, not having lived what their mothers lived more than 20 years ago. But they heard the stories and, weaponless, confronted the soldiers.

We, on the other hand, left in a big hurry, and as often happens when you leave in a hurry, we left many behind.

The safest country in the world, sandwiched between two oceans and two friendly countries north and south, is so afraid of terrorists that we created a visa system making it almost impossible for Afghans who helped us to get out. So many security agencies were involved, checking and double-checking on the referrals (Yes, but are you sure he’s not a double agent for the Taliban?), and bureaucracy was no match for the Taliban. In fact, bureaucracy fueled by fear is no match for anything. It’ll swallow up energy, innovation, and people’s dreams. And people.

A Latina friend, an American citizen, hoped to finally go on vacation with her husband and two children. They hadn’t gone on vacation since coming to this country, trying to save up money. They found a one-week package deal for vacation in Costa Rica and she submitted her application for a passport at the end of April, paying the extra fee for expedited handling. The family trip was scheduled for late July.

She never got her passport. The State Dept. announced there were delays in processing passports so three months’ wait was no longer enough. Too bad. They didn’t lose the entire value of the package for the four of them, but they had to pay penalties.

Is anybody accountable anywhere in Washington?

Meantime, almost 20,000 people were killed in gun violence in 2020 in the U.S. (not including suicide by guns) because practically anyone can get his/her hands on a gun, while Afghans who proved their value and support couldn’t get visas because they might be terrorists.

I look out in early evening. The sun still shines, but big rains and thunderstorms are on their way for the night and all day tomorrow. And even as I shake my head about how crazy this country is, I also think: It’s so beautiful.

In early September the trees are a dark, dark green, creating black caverns between the trunks. The western-facing leaves are lapping up the last rays of twilight while the others move lightly in the breeze. I’m sure that somehow, they know what’s ahead of them this evening. And I remember reading in Richard Price‘s great Overstory that leaves stir when humans pass by them. They register us, even as we usually don’t register them.

Where am I in these last moments of daylight? The Afghan women risking so much to claim human rights feel close even as I look at New England forests. The government repeats again and again how that far-away country is far away, not of critical importance to us here. But people wanting their freedom feel close. Women wanting education and jobs, the ability to support families and raise children, feel closer to me than the red shirt I’m wearing. They want to have a loud, intelligent, confident voice. A woman’s voice who cares more about life than death, who knows both tedium and patience, who plants, waters and harvests, who knows the cycles of infinity. Who knows the language of leaves and trees and won’t uproot herself from earth.

From where comes this resonance?

I watch a hummingbird drinking the sugared water I put outside for it. They’re usually not out so late, but the temperatures are warm, waiting for rain. This may be the last week I’ll see them here, they leave early.

My mother had a bad day just before Rosh Hashana.

“How am I?” she repeats my question. “Okay, I’ll tell you, but be very, very careful. They’re taking us away.”

“Where, mom?”

“They’re taking people to concentration camps. I’m all packed.”

“Mom, nobody’s coming, believe me. Nobody’s coming to get you, I promise.”

“I packed some food for the children.”

“Mom, nobody’s coming.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you’re in Israel, mom. They have good army and police, there’s our family. No one is taking you away anywhere.”

“I promise that I will contact you from wherever I’ll be.”

“You’ll be home, mom, with Swapna. It’s the new year, you’ll have company for meals, you’ll be fine.”

“If I don’t get in touch with you it’s because I can’t get in touch, not because I don’t care.”

My sister later confirmed that she did indeed pack a bag.

The wind is picking up, a flutter among the branches. Fall is coming, their fall. Everything is in that rush of foliage: the courage of women in Afghanistan, an old woman still living out her fears of 80 years ago, Henry the Chihuahua’s stuffed blue alligator on my lap waiting to be tossed and retrieved, a green hummingbird ready to fly south.

The compassion of leaves.

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