I had barely posted my story and photos about my visit to the Refugee And Immigration Support Services Center Emmaus (RISSE) yesterday when a reader of my blog named Amanda – she was from Iowa – replied on Facebook and informed me very respectfully that our President was simply trying to protect us from the people who wanted to come to our country to hurt us.
Of course, she said, it was wrong to have burned down the RISSE office building last year, but there is hatred and anger on both sides of the issue, her priest has made it a point to offer dinner to refugees.
She was very nice.
I told her I didn’t really know the President, or what he thought or didn’t think, I was not as certain about it as she was, but my writing about the children and students at RISSE was not, in my mind, about politics, it was not about the left or the right or grievance or complaint.
It was very personal, it was about my own idea of humanity, and what it means to be a human being.
Amanda was just doing what more and more Americans are doing. She was not listening to me, or hearing what I was saying, she was simply telling me what she believed because I wrote what I believed, and thus, we were going right over one anothers head, as is the disease crippling our political system. Just watch the news.
For me, my feeling about refugees and immigration is not something that I am right or wrong about, it is just something I have lived and I believe and is a part of me.
Going to RISSE, listening to a teacher explain English, watching the children love and play with one another, I felt something very powerful, I knew I was in the right place, doing the right thing, taking the photos I ought to be taking, writing what I have wanted to write and am drawn to write, taking the pictures I need to take.
We are all children who lose our parents, every one of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us. This, says author Moshin Hamid, is the loss than unites all humanity, unites every human being, this very temporal nature of our existence, and of our shared sorrow, and the heartache we each carry and yet so often are unable to see or acknowledge in one another.
This acknowledgement, I believe, makes it possible for me to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world, for treating one another with dignity and compassion, even in the face of certain death for me and for every living thing that I love. When I welcome the refugee instead of slamming the door, I am reaffirming my faith in what it means to be human. It is selfish thing, a gift to me. It is good for me.
What, after all, are we here for, to save up money for our IRA’s, so we can live longer than we wish to live in places we don’t wish to be?
Amanda, you are not listening to me, and I am not listening to you.
And that is a big problem for many people besides us, and for our country, and certainly for the very frightened and bewildered people coming to us for refuge and compassion and comfort, for me, the benchmarks of humanity.
For me, the refugee question is not a political issue to be argued on Facebook. It is very personal and individual. And I would not argue with you or disagree with your idea of what is happening and what is right.
That is the truth for you, and the truth of you.
For me, it is simply a matter of accepting life, and everything in life is a gift, I cling to as little of it as is possible.
I give some of it to others, if I can. One should be able to share things with other people without worrying too much about how they like it, or whether they will agree or disagree, or how they accept it.
I assume people will accept what I say, if they need it. And if they don’t need it, they won’t accept it and why should they?
That is their choice, their decision. Let me accept what is mine and offer people their share to take, if they wish, and we will each go our own way and live our lives.
My life grows in mystery enmeshed in paradox and contradiction, I could not possibly know what is right or wrong for everyone else. I embrace the Christian idea of divine mercy. If anyone asks, and no one has, I will accept the risk of people coming to hurt me if we can save so many thousands of people who are not a threat to me or to anyone else. That is the risk of being human. Every day I accept the risk of crossing the street or driving my car or getting up in the morning.
There is no life without risk. Statistically, I have a much better chance of having an airplane land on my head than being harmed by a refugee or immigrant. Yet we drive and walk.
My philosophy does not consist of statements or beliefs about a truth that is absolute, because there is no such thing to me. Without mercy, there can be no humanity, no unity, no simplicity or peace of mind in our lives. Imposing our ideas and beliefs and political systems on others is not peace and almost never justice.
That is the paradox.
In the laughter and joy of the RISSE children, I found my way, and my humanity, and that is all I can truly offer you. You can take what you need and leave the rest with me.
And go in peace.