The Christmas story as it would be in Tennessee
Room in the inn: Afghan-American residents of Nashville, photographed in 2021 during a rally to support the resettlement of Afghan refugees in the area. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Like many of you, I was brought up in a Christian household and so I know the story of Christmas well — a story of a Middle Eastern Jewish couple who had to travel before the times of AirBnB and, arriving at their destination, finding all the inns were full. It’s a good thing that Mary and Joseph were able to find a stable to shelter in and didn’t have to camp outdoors on state property, something that is now a felony here in Tennessee.
I can’t help but wonder at the miracle of Mary surviving childbirth with no medical care in the filthiest of settings, a stable filled with bacteria, to say nothing of the baby Jesus living past infancy and not succumbing to an infection given the lack of vaccinations and antibiotics.
Nowadays, I fear for women giving birth in Tennessee due to the high maternal mortality statistics in our state. I worry about the pregnant people whose lives are endangered by their pregnancies and the lack of reproductive healthcare options for them. I fear for my fellow physicians, doing their best to care for pregnant patients, knowing they can go to prison for providing quality, evidence-based healthcare proven to save lives.
Due to the change to our state laws, I fear for all those now being forced into parenthood for which they may not be financially, mentally or physically prepared. I fear for the children who will be born into those families — children who may end up forced into state custody. I fear for all the children who are now or will end up in our crumbling Department of Children’s Services system.
Another key part of the Christmas story happened shortly after the birth of Jesus, when Joseph and Mary had to flee their country because of King Herod, forced to become refugees in a foreign land. This story should inspire sympathy for those in similar situations, fleeing religious persecution, war, famine and other horrific conditions in their homelands, doing their best to survive and find a place for their children to be safe. Instead, we see many of the elected officials treating immigrants with disdain and outright hostility. I wonder if they would turn away Mary, Joseph and their baby at the border, telling them there’s no room for them in America.
It’s nearly the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. It definitely feels like we are living through some dark times. But I have hope for brighter days ahead. Despite all the fearmongering and hateful rhetoric, I still believe that America can live up to its full potential. We can be a country that cares for the poor and the homeless. A country that welcomes the stranger in a foreign land. We can be a place where we truly care about one another and do our best to make sure everyone is safe.
I want to wish a Merry Christmas to the members of our LGBTQ+ community who have endured so much this year. A happy Hanakkuh to the Jewish community who have suffered through another rise in anti-Semitism. Happy Kwanzaa to the African American community that still experiences racism, discrimination and worse health outcomes. And I wish a Happy New Year to all of the immigrant communities who are simply doing their best to make it in a new country. Happy holidays to all my fellow Tennesseans.
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