Sometimes your fire can be rekindled instantly. Your inner spark ignited. For me, it happened recently by a most unlikely source. A 12-year-old Girl Scout.
And it’s been illuminated since!
It started over two weeks ago when we received news that our former hospitality site at the Loretto Nazareth Living Center was reopening! The new owners of the building had decided to give Annunciation House use of their unused wing again as a temporary shelter for the migrants and refugees processed by ICE.
Its two long hallways, dozens of hospital-type rooms with individual bathrooms, large kitchen and dining area meant we could receive more “guests.” Employ more volunteers. Offer better care.
We were “back in business.”
Just entering the familiar space that morning made me happy. Remembering the special memories, the many graced encounters we’d experienced during the previous 2 ½ years we’d occupied this place…it’s hard to explain.
But there was lots to do. The place had been closed for over a year. All our supplies, donations, and volunteers had moved on. It meant everything would have to be replenished.
Then the El Paso Girl Scouts, Troop #883, showed up.
I had been told they’d be bringing donations and that Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, was coming to personally thank them. I just didn’t know the magnitude of their efforts until, assisted by somebody’s mom, the girls carried in armload after armload of their collections.
Soon nearly our entire office floor was awash in a sea of colorful tote bags. Bright yellows, blues, purples, greens, oranges, whites, and reds brimming with snacks and toiletries stuffed in individual Ziploc baggies.
“We have more in my garage when you’re ready for them,” the mom said.
My curiosity won out.
“Whose idea was this?” I asked. “How’d you get all these donations?”
That’s when Natalie spoke up.
She said she’d attended the protest in Tornillo when the news first came out that children separated from their parents would be housed in a tent there. That’s where she learned about Annunciation House and decided to help with supplies for the traveling families. She posted something on her Facebook page and soon financial donations poured in. Not only nationwide but from people as far as away as the UK and Australia.
Natalie said she was “heartened” by the response.
So was I.
Honestly, I had been feeling weary from all that’s been happening at our border. And elsewhere in the country. All the cruelty, the lack of decency and civility to one another, the suffering we’re causing.
I have to admit that I’d been struggling not to let the state of my own mind and heart be affected by what was happening around me.
And then Natalie and Girl Scout Troop #883 reminded me of something.
The divine spark within. It’s there in all of us.
In some cases, it’s covered over by lots of layers. Layers of hurt and pain and fear. We’re seeing evidence of that in many ways these days.
But I want to tell you that it’s alive and well in El Paso. I witness it every time I step over the threshold at Nazareth.
This week we began receiving some of the reunified families. And if this week is any indication, it’s going to be crazy, chaotic, exhausting.
“Such joy!” is how Lisa, a friend and volunteer, expressed her feelings at witnessing these families back together.
Now that Annunciation House has been “in the news” as one of four places in the country to which ICE will deliver the thousands of parents and children they are reuniting, volunteers are coming out of the woodwork.
This week Natalie’s mom came to Nazareth with other moms to make breakfast for our families. Calling themselves “the angry mothers group,” they donned tee shirts that expressed their support of the families. Those moms who didn’t know Spanish smiled a lot at our guests. They made our families feel like they were human beings. And let them know that somebody – although a “stranger” – cared.
People from all walks of life, all faith denominations, all skin colors and cultures – they are all showing up at our door wanting to help.
And they are on fire too!
Not only because they want to do something positive in the face of such abominable treatment to our fellow human beings, but because they too are recognizing what I and my fellow volunteers have been recognizing in the faces of these migrants and refugees since day 1.
The face of Christ. The divine spark.
And that spark is igniting their own spark.
Dorothy Day says:
“Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up….If we love each other enough, we are going to light the fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”
Maybe your spark will be ignited too. Wherever you are.
Maybe we all will someday recognize that this divine spark, this love has been there all along. Waiting for us to wake up. To remove our blindness. To catch on fire with the awareness of who we truly are.
Every single one of us.
I love Virginia. I was so thrilled to be back visiting my former home that I pretty much wandered around with a continuous smile.
First there was the effects of all that spring rain. Virginia’s mountains and hillsides glowed with a vibrant green carpet. Trees and vegetation along the roadsides were so full, they seemed to reach out to embrace me.
I treasured hikes and gatherings with dear friends. Enjoyed surprise encounters with old friends at a special wedding. Spent time with Davis – always a treat – and got to see the wonderful adults some of his high school friends have become.
Virginia has given me so many precious memories and such special heart connections, who wouldn’t smile?
Even crossing the state line and seeing the familiar “Virginia is for lovers” slogan got me.
But I can’t say my entire trip was filled with goodness and happy thoughts.
Back home at the border things were heating up. Even before I left El Paso, we were seeing cases of asylum seekers being jailed and their children taken from them. In the week that followed my departure, a difficult and painful situation had deteriorated from bad to worse.
Not that I was watching TV news. But between emails from friends and contacts back home, along with snippets of Internet news, I couldn’t ignore what was happening.
Soon, along with the joy of being back in Virginia, I was carrying a heaviness on my heart. It accompanied me into bed at night and awoke with me every morning.
Seeing faces in the news similar to those of the families I accompany, knowing the pain and distortion they were being subjected to, I couldn’t rest easily. After all, I’ve listened to their stories, played with their shy children, prepared and eaten plate after plate of reheated rice and beans with them.
Maybe right about now you’re asking, how does this relate to the title of your blog post?
I admit that finding words to express all I’ve been experiencing these days is challenging.
But I’ll try.
Sunday while hiking in the Gila National Forest, I met a Navy veteran who’d lived in Virginia. When he discovered Virginia had been my home for 30 years, he shared his not-so-positive opinions about the commonwealth.
Far from the “Virginia is for lovers” motto, he saw Virginians as racists still living in the pre-Civil War era, honoring the Confederacy, stuck in time. (I should note he was Caucasian.)
Clearly, his “reality” differed greatly from mine.
Not that there aren’t people who act this way, but this is not the Virginia nor the Virginians I know.
This guy’s stereotype was not indicative of the special place where we raised our son.
Davis learned about love in Virginia. He learned compassion, not judgment. Acceptance, not racial profiling. He learned to meet people where they are and be generous with what he has.
My heart connection with Virginians has created a different reality.
It’s those heart connections – both in Virginia and on the border – that prevent me from lumping people into derogatory categories. Or labeling them “racists,” “animals,” “criminals” who are “infesting” us.
I could not malign and dismiss the people of Virginia any more than I could the families of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras who come to our hospitality houses.
Why? Because living on the cusp of what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border, I’ve experienced a different “reality.” Thankfully, a reality many of my Virginia friends wanted to hear about. And I’m so grateful for their listening open, loving hearts.
“Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.”
― Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place: The Triumphant True Story of Corrie Ten Boom
I agree that love IS the strongest force in the world. Love can turn things – and people – around.
And something else about love.
Love is strong and fierce in defense of those it loves. Love is not cowardly. It takes risks. Lovers do not sit quietly by while those they love are maligned.
I don’t intend to be silent in support of people I have come to love.
I make no apologies for the pain and anger I feel in my heart when I see a video of a Guatemalan mother, reunited with her 5-year-old son at the airport, sobbing into him as she tells him in Spanish that she loves him.
The pain that we have been inflicting on these children is a violent act. It is anything but love. It goes against the grain of what love is.
It goes against who I am.
This is not a time for silence or inertia. It’s a time for lovers – lovers in the true sense of the word – to speak up.
I had two encounters with a wall on Saturday night. Literally and figuratively.
One was the tall steel monstrosity that Trump has erected at the Santa Teresa, NM port of entry – the beginnings of his “big, beautiful wall.” The other is the one I discovered in me.
It wasn’t exactly what I’d expected to encounter – this growing self-awareness of ways I put up walls. But there it was. Right in front of me.
And impossible to ignore.
Not unlike the not-yet-but-soon-to-be 18-ft wall of ugliness planted at my feet in the desert.
Even at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, the sun was hot and strong, bearing down on me and a few hundred “friends” gathered at the fence line between Mexico and New Mexico.
Sponsored by the Southwest Environmental Center and other environmental and humanitarian groups, this Border Wall Protest was to draw attention to the negative repercussions of constructing this wall and to present a tangible resistance.
I’ll say right off that I’ve grown tired of protests. I want to take positive action. And I often look for ways to do that.
But I came in solidarity, and with curiosity. I wanted to see what this wall looked like. After all, $72 million (so far) of our tax dollars have been appropriated to its construction. And this is the spot where it all begins.
Let me tell you, it’s ugly. It’s invasive. Much more so than any human being.
And, for those of us who live in the Borderlands – the area from El Paso to Las Cruces – it’s right in our backyard.
We locals know this wall will not stop the flow of drugs across the border. The demand is high in the U.S., and the smugglers find ways to transport drugs through the ports of entry and through tunnels. Nor will it stop desperate people from seeking asylum at the ports of entry. But it will stop the natural flow of wildlife across borders and countries, something I learned about in Costa Rica, which is an international bridge for the flow of North American wildlife. It will also prevent animals close to home from finding necessary water and sustenance.
So, this wall will accomplish nothing positive and it will cost billions.
Costly and unnecessary.
I pondered that as I walked.
And as I gazed beyond the narrow steel columns into the expanse of desert, a sadness came over me. The sadness of so much pain in our country these days. The name calling – on both sides – the harsh pigeonholing of immigrants, the refusal to take responsibility for the negative outcome of our actions. And, most especially, the cruel SOP of separating young children from their parents at the border.
This is a hard reality. And it was hard to hold.
As Franciscan Richard Rohr says, “We hold the hardness of reality and the suffering of the world until it transforms us.”
But holding it means not being reactionary. As I thought about this, I recognized my own reactionary stance. How sometimes I erect my own costly and unnecessary walls.
When someone expresses an opinion different than mine and digs their heels in the ground refusing to even hear what I am saying, a wall goes up.
When someone dismisses what I feel most passionately about, a wall goes up.
When someone hurts others, oblivious to the pain they’re causing, or supports a policy that hurts others, a wall goes up.
I realize it’s a risk, to take down these walls. I could get hurt.
Yet I know they too are an unnecessary monstrosity that stops the natural flow of life and love.
If my purpose here truly is to learn to love better, how can I come from a different stance? Not condoning or ignoring the harm another is doing, but also not being reactionary?
What will lead me closer to the Divine heart of God? Dualistic, negative thoughts that prevent me from really connecting with others? Or an open mind and heart that seeks a new way to respond? One that lets down walls and goes beyond comfortable borders?
So, I’ve been reflecting on these questions. Maybe you’ll find considering them helpful, too.
What boundaries am I being asked to cross?
What walls do I need to tear down?
I struggle with how to respond to words and actions that strike at the heart.
“They’re criminals. They don’t deserve consideration and compassion.”
“We have lost our soul.” These last words from Ruben Garcia at the recent Voice of the Voiceless fundraising dinner for Annunciation House, with the theme “If the World Knew,” especially struck my heart. “Our country has lost its soul,” he told us.
Is it true?
I don’t know how to respond.
I wonder how do I convey, through my words, the haunting wails of a child separated from his mother? Or the pain expressed by a woman whose husband – her sole supporter – is forcibly taken from her without her being able to say goodbye? What words exemplify the distress I have been feeling that these “deeds” are done in our name?
What could I possibly write? And how is God asking me to respond?
Part of my assignment with the Living School of Contemplation and Action is to read mystics like Thomas Merton. This morning, I spontaneously opened his book, New Seeds of Contemplation, and discovered the words I was searching for.
So I will let him write this post for me.
Just as a forewarning, having written this in 1961, Merton uses a lot of male pronouns and nouns. I have occasionally added “woman” to this excerpt, and I have italicized and boldened some text that especially speaks to me, but his message shines through nonetheless.
“If you want to know what is meant by ‘God’s will’ in man’s life, this is one way to get a good idea of it. ‘God’s will’ is certainly found in anything that is required of us in order that we may be united with one another in love. You can call this, if you like, the basic tenet of the Natural Law, which is that we should treat others as we would like them to treat us, that we should not do to one another what we would not want another to do to us. In other words, the natural law is simply that we should recognize in every other human being the same nature, the same needs, the same rights, the same destiny as in ourselves. The plainest summary of all the natural law is: to treat other [men and women] as if they were [men/women]. Not to act as if I alone were a man, and every other human were an animal or a piece of furniture.
“Everything that is demanded of me, in order that I may treat every other [man/woman] effectively as a human being, ‘is willed for me by God under the natural law.’ Whether or not I find the formula satisfactory, it is obvious that I cannot live a truly human life if I consistently disobey this fundamental principle.
“But I cannot treat other men as men unless I have compassion for them. I must have at least enough compassion to realize that when they suffer they feel somewhat as I do when I suffer. And if for some reason I do not spontaneously feel this kind of sympathy for others, then it is God’s will that I do what I can to learn how. I must learn to share with others their joys, their sufferings, their ideas, their needs, their desires. I must learn to do this not only in the cases of those who are of the same class, the same profession, the same race, the same nation as myself, but when men who suffer belong to other groups, even to groups that are regarded as hostile. If I do this, I obey God. If I refuse to do it, I disobey Him. It is not therefore a matter left open to subjective caprice.
“…Christianity is not merely a doctrine or a system of beliefs, it is Christ living in us and uniting [men/women] to one another in His own Life and unity. ‘I in them, and Thou, Father in Me, that they may be made perfect in One…And the glory which Thou hast given me I have given them, that they may be One as we also are One.’” (New Seeds of Contemplation, pp. 76-77)
Today is the 9th anniversary of David’s passing, and I’m marveling at where I’ve landed. Only last week, I moved again.
No, I didn’t stray very far from El Paso. Just over the border in New Mexico. But it’s a good move. I’ve bought my own place in a great community, and it means I’m putting down roots. Settling in. Ready to really sink my teeth into my life here.
Back in 2009 I could not have envisioned this life. A life without him. A life far from dear friends and a community that fully supported and surrounded me and Davis through our grief.
A life outside my beautiful Virginia.
Now I can’t imagine going back. Not being able to accompany and support the asylum seekers who arrive at our door. I can’t imagine not being able to witness firsthand and speak up about the realities of the Borderlands – the name for our area, from El Paso to Las Cruces, NM.
Because the reality is so much different from what you hear in the news or from the mouths of political pundits on TV. Or on Twitter.
I’ve learned so much through the people I’ve met. About perseverance and faith against all odds. About the challenges of living with tremendous uncertainty. The kind that’s life-threatening and beyond heartbreaking.
And, most especially, about the nature of our true home. The home within.
Still it feels good to have landed in my new physical home. A place with a different kind of beauty, where I still have my circle of friends and a community committed to social justice and caring for “the other.”
A safe place.
Yes, El Paso and the Borderlands are safe. In fact, El Paso continues to be counted as one of the safest U.S. cities for its size. I have always felt safe here. I teach English to adults at a church that’s within walking distance of the border. The little hospitality house where I volunteer is downtown, also close to the border. Mexican shoppers cross over daily and support our economy.
This is why what we hear in the media about the border is so disturbing. Like the idea of the president sending the National Guard. It’s ridiculous to us. We believe it’s a waste of taxpayer money and our resources. The truth is, apprehensions at the border have decreased significantly. The numbers are way down.
We also know the truth about the caravan of immigrants traveling from Central America through Mexico and how that story, in the hands of this president, exploded into some far-fetched, fear-based fantasy. Not to mention that many of these asylum seekers are from Honduras, a country whose recent election was considered a fraud, except by our president. He supported the reelection of President Juan Orlando Hernández – an authoritarian leader in one of the most violent nations in the world. We continue to send military aid to Honduras while their military police abuse and kill grassroots activists and the poor and marginalized. With rampant crime and human rights abuses, it’s no wonder Hondurans are fleeing.
One young woman whom ICE delivered to us shared how the people are desperately poor. Desperate people do desperate things. She and her roommate were both raped in their apartment, and everything they had was stolen. They had nothing left. They were not safe. And they had no recourse. The police could not or would not help them. She fled, not knowing this rape would result in a pregnancy until months later.
Yet she shows no resentment. She even smiles when she speaks about this baby. She seems to be in a good place mentally and spiritually. I wonder if I could land with such grace.
But then again, after David died, I didn’t think I’d ever land someplace gracefully and securely again. At least not without that bottomless well of pain accompanying me.
I’ve discovered that’s not true.
And moving to Las Cruces, with its tree-lined streets, and a little cooler temperatures and a lot more greenery – all within a short drive to El Paso and still within my border community – well, it’s like landing in the best of both worlds.
With so many blessings, I can’t ignore what’s going on in the world around me and not give back. I know David would approve.
It was such a precious thing.
To have a little 4-year-old, previously a stranger to me, trust me with her knotted tresses. Trust me enough to allow me to secure her between my knees as I sat down and attempted to untangle her long, wavy locks.
Lint and other particles from her weeks-long journey from Honduras had nested in Yoselin’s curls and refused to disentangle themselves.
It felt like a nearly impossible task. Especially with only a thin comb as my tool.
She never made a sound. Never winced. Yoselin stood quietly, patiently, while her 7-year-old sister and her appreciative father watched.
I finally threw my hands up.
“It’s the best I can do. Es la mejor que puedo hacer.”
I gave a pleading look to her dad and twisted a hair band around her tresses, securing any loose ends. Even after I pulled her hair back into a ponytail, Yoselin didn’t budge. She remained perched between my legs, unmovable. I gave her a little nudge.
“I need to get up,” I gently said. Necesito levantarme.
Reluctantly she moved away and I went off to prepare lunch so she and her family could eat before they boarded the bus to Tennessee in a few hours.
It felt like such a small thing. And yet very precious.
I didn’t know the next time this child would receive such a gentle, loving touch. Her innocence and complete vulnerability and trust at my hands made me want to cry.
Sometimes it’s not just children who are innocent and vulnerable and trusting in our hands.
I’ve become familiar with so many suffering people who have come here completely vulnerable and trusting in a country known as the greatest defender of human rights and democracy.
Like my guy in detention “Mathias.” He was shocked when, after explaining to U.S. Customs and Border Protection his reason for seeking international asylum, they handcuffed and confined him in a detention facility.
I’ve been visiting Mathias for months. I’ve gotten to know him and care about him. Even took the morning off to attend his court hearing, as his main support system and concerned friend. But he lost his case. It doesn’t appear he has much chance for appeal. His health has been deteriorating since he arrived at the El Paso detention facility. Yet El Paso has one of the better facilities.
If he doesn’t appeal, he will soon be transferred to another facility as he awaits deportation. And his situation could get much worse.
My fear is he’ll be transferred to a private facility in Sierra Blanca, Texas, where African immigrants, in particular, are being abused and beaten, according to a recent report by immigrant and civil rights groups. This is not surprising, based on what we hear from other volunteers and immigration attorneys.
It deeply disturbs me – what’s happening in our country. Both behind closed doors and overtly.
I’m aware that sometimes I can’t get all the knots out, no matter how hard I try. I can’t prevent the pain someone is experiencing.
Sometimes the best I can offer is to simply walk alongside them in their anxiety. Their fear. Their suffering.
And not have any answers. Not be able to explain why a country known throughout the world for supporting and defending human rights would treat others inhumanely.
It doesn’t seem like enough. What I do.
But I know that kindness does matter. A caring heart matters. And an educated, intelligent response to abusive authority matters, too.
Your response matters.
Let’s all do the best we can do. It’s the only way positive changes can happen.
I had Davis to myself for nearly five days over the Christmas holiday. That has to be a first.
Usually, whenever he’s home, he has friends to catch up with, numerous social engagements to attend, and at least one overnighter at a best friend’s house. But I’m not in Virginia anymore.
Here in El Paso, he had nothing on his social calendar except visiting me.
Despite my glee, I wasn’t stingy with him. I didn’t hoard his attention. I shared him with El Paso.
After all, he was the first of my intimate circle of family and friends to visit, and I was anxious to show him around. To introduce him to life at the border and expose him to the people and places that mean so much to me. I wanted to give him the full effect.
And I hoped he would understand.
On Christmas Eve, his first day, we attended the annual Las Posadas and intimate Christmas Eve Mass and dinner at Annunciation House – a hospitality house for migrants and refugees that has been operating for 40 years in downtown El Paso. Entirely run on donations and volunteers, the building is old, but it’s filled with the precious hearts and stories of those who have passed through its doors.
This was Davis’s first Las Posadas. He didn’t seem to mind as we walked the street, knocking on doors, singing in Spanish – a language he doesn’t know. We followed a little girl posing as Mary, a lace shawl draped around her head, accompanied by her raggedy-dressed Joseph – both of them real-life refugees.
When we gathered back at Annunciation House, he didn’t seem to mind the peeling paint and cracked walls. Or that he had to stand during the service because there weren’t enough seats. He toured the house with one of the 20-something year-old volunteers who’ve made a year-long commitment to work and live here, and he asked thoughtful questions. He listened to fellow volunteers share stories about what this place means to them.
Then we ate a simple Christmas Eve meal of Posole, a traditional Mexican stew made with hominy, while sitting on a hard bench alongside refugees from the Congo, Guatemala, and Honduras. Davis even scrounged up the courage to practice his French with the African woman. Not knowing either English or Spanish, she had been silent until he engaged her in conversation.
The next morning at breakfast I asked what he thought about our unique Christmas Eve celebration.
Without hesitation, he said, “I can see God is present here.”
As he spoke of the volunteers’ commitment to the people, of all the “good” and the generosity he’d witnessed, my heart filled.
He’d seen what I’d wanted him to see. After only one day!
During the rest of his trip, in quiet moments, Davis asked questions about his dad. He wanted to remember the quirky aspects of David’s personality. Hear more about his father’s childhood and the early days of our marriage.
I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I became acutely aware of David’s presence in our conversations. I felt immense warmth and gratitude.
I never wanted Davis to suffer this loss at such a young age, in the middle of the most important stage of his relationship with his father. Yet I know he is wiser because of this experience. His life is richer, his insights deeper, his compassion more genuine.
It’s what enabled him to stand in this place at the border with me and see what I see. With an awareness and understanding that comes from the heart.
Gregory Boyle, the Jesuit priest who’s worked with gang members in LA for 30 years and wrote the best seller Tattoos on the Heart, spoke about this in a recent interview with Krista Tippett. He says that “standing in the lowly place with the easily despised and the readily left out,” he finds more joy, kinship, mutuality. He’s discovered that “the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship.”
Sometimes that kinship comes in the guise of wounds.
As one of Fr. Boyle’s homies, who’d been abused and beaten throughout his childhood, explained, “How can I help the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?”
So, we have to welcome our wounds. These hurting places within us. And I think if we are not afraid to acknowledge them, and know that we are loved unconditionally in them, we will be better able to stand in that “lowly place” offering kinship to those whom society considers dismissible, disposable.
And we will see with different eyes. The eyes that saw what Davis saw in El Paso.
I was a little over an hour away from Dallas, where I’d planned to stop for the night, when three warning lights popped up on my dash.
Panic. I’m on an interstate surrounded by nothing but ranchland. I still had about another 10 hours of driving to get back to El Paso. Plus, it’s Friday night of Memorial Day weekend.
After pulling over to peruse my manual and check my engine, I offer a prayer to get somewhere safely. Then I decide to calm down. I decide to trust that whatever happens, it’ll be OK. And I let go of any expectation to make it back to El Paso tomorrow.
This is not a typical response for me.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been getting a lot of practice in learning to trust over these past several years.
Maybe it’s the effects of listening to CDs on Meister Eckhart and the art of letting go while taking this incredibly long roundtrip drive from El Paso to Virginia.
Maybe it’s because, from the beginning, this journey has been about ridding myself of what is unnecessary. Of letting go of attachments and outcomes. Of learning to say yes to what is in front of me.
And there’s no doubt it’s because of what I’ve seen and experienced along the way.
Days earlier I had emptied out the extra bedroom at a friend’s house where I’d stored boxes I couldn’t get to before leaving Virginia last January. Sorting through years of family photos and other memorabilia filled me with gratitude for the blessed life I’d had.
A life I couldn’t return to. No matter how appealing it seemed.
And appealing it was. Visiting friends who were settling into a simpler life with their husbands, their kids now grown and out of college, yet still living close enough for family get-togethers in the beautiful rural countryside of central Virginia – I’ll admit, it was attractive.
This physical emptying out, I realized, was a metaphor for the internal releasing and emptying that has been going on. An emptying of attitudes as well as possessions, of the way I would like life to show up. The way I would like things to be.
Like not having car issues on the interstate, for example. Or not having my husband die so young. Or living so far away from my son who’s remaining in Alaska for at least another year.
Yet I also saw how, the more I “empty myself out,” the more I have room for God. And for “the other.” Room for true listening. For opening to the grace that’s right here.
The next day, as I sat in the customer service area at the Dallas Sewell Subaru, waiting to get the news about my car, I pulled out a letter I’d received from Martin, a 27-year-old Mexican journalist who’d come here seeking asylum because his life had been threatened. He was stuck in the El Paso detention facility, awaiting the results of his case.
I’d begun writing to Martin, hoping to encourage and visit him soon. I was considering my response to his letter when I received a text from a friend in El Paso saying that Martin had been denied asylum for the second time! Losing hope, he’d decided to give up his case rather than appeal and remain in our prison-like system. That means he’ll be returning to Mexico where at least half a dozen journalists have been killed in recent months. His young life is surely in danger.
Suddenly my minor inconvenience is irrelevant. My calling to follow my heart clearer than ever.
It may be that every time I step out in faithfulness, I’m taking a risk. But my risks are insignificant compared to the risks taken by those I’ve accompanied, my brothers and sisters running for their lives. People who live in constant fear and danger.
Living with an open-hearted stance is not easy. I feel the pain of the other as I grow in awareness that my life is not about me.
But this is what I choose. And I need grace to succeed.
“Grace leads us to the state of emptiness, to that momentary sense of meaningless in which we ask, ‘What is it all for? What does it all mean?’ All we can do is try to keep our hands cupped and open. And it is even grace to do that.” Richard Rohr
I hope that I am being “emptied out” so that I can be filled with the very fullness of that grace.
Ground Zero. “The front lines.” The “beachhead.”
This is how U.S. Attorney General Sessions described El Paso on his recent visit. Apparently, I’m living in the middle of a war zone.
“This is where we are making our stand,” Sessions added.
A stand in the battle to stop the drug cartels and gangs from coming into our country. Even though, in reality, El Paso is one of the safest cities in the U.S. If Sessions is looking for gangs, he might want to search a little deeper in his territory up in Washington.
He’s also taking a strong stand against those who are trying to enter the country illegally. Sessions’ message for migrants and refugees was, “…you should do what over 1 million other immigrants do each year, wait your turn and come lawfully.”
That statement said it all to me. Either he is vastly misinformed, or he just doesn’t care that what he is saying is not possible.
Wait your turn and come lawfully?
First, no one who is fleeing for their lives or those of their children can “wait their turn.” Secondly, most people needing to migrate are not able to obtain “legal” entry, no matter how much paperwork they complete, how many hoops they jump through, and how long they are willing to wait.
Translated, I take his message to mean nobody’s going to be allowed in, we’re at war with immigrants, and El Paso is the beach of Normandy.
God help us.
Will all this hardline rhetoric and militaristic nationalism coming out of Washington protect us? Not likely.
But what it will do – and already has done – is put people at further risk. Further jeopardize people whose lives are in danger. Put us at war with other countries, whether figuratively or literally. And put us at war with each other. The latter is already happening on Twitter and other forms of social media, on college campuses, and on the streets among protesters.
Frankly, I’m tired of all the negative rhetoric. The divisive words. The messages of hate and separation. Especially when they’re applied to the border, to Mexicans, and to immigrants.
So, I’m turning the rhetoric around and recognizing El Paso for what it is.
Ground Zero for compassion. For hope.
Because the people of El Paso are some of the kindest, most generous, most compassionate, faith-filled people I know. Whether they are here “with papers” or not.
Imagine that. Compassion and hope.
Right here at the beachhead.
At Ground Zero I’ve learned a lot about what it means to serve others. To live my faith and follow the corporal works of mercy. If you’re not familiar with them, in Catholic teaching the corporal works of mercy are seven ways we can extend God’s compassion and mercy on earth – feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned, visit the sick, and bury the dead.
The volunteers I work with in El Paso do this in innumerable ways.
Every day. Right here. From Ground Zero.
“Each time someone stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others…he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” Robert Kennedy
I want to send forth this ripple. Live as a light of compassion. Rather than a voice of animosity and fear.
Imagine what that would be like. Imagine the possibilities.
“Hope looks at all things the way a mother looks at her child, with a passion for the possible.” Br. David Steindl-Rast
This YouTube video of Pentatonix is a good place to start. You might call it ground zero.
We’re expecting some pretty important visitors to our little border community tomorrow. Not just one big wig from the administration in Washington, D.C., but two – U.S. Attorney General Sessions and Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Kelly.
Apparently, they’re making the rounds, having visited Nogales, Arizona, just the other day.
But I don’t think any of us is exactly sure why they’re coming. I doubt they’re coming to breathe our arid air and tour the 15-18 ft. high border fence we already have erected along our border.
My hope is that they actually want to learn something about the communities impacted by their immigration and border defense decisions. That they want to ask us questions and gather information about what life is really like for people living so close to Mexico before they go any farther with their costly deportation and border wall plans.
One can hope, can’t she?
But, if they’re simply coming with their own agenda, to put in place whatever they already have in mind, then God help us.
History has shown us what happens when those who govern make detrimental decisions for those from whom they are far removed, both physically and emotionally. Remember your American history and the cry “taxation without representation”? Remember what happened when the British tried to rule people in a faraway land without understanding their concerns or being willing to treat them fairly?
Now, I’m not threatening a revolution or anything. I’m just saying…
Pay attention to history!
El Pasoans don’t seem to be too happy about this visit. Although we are trying to hope for the best.
In today’s El Paso Times – our daily newspaper – the editor had this to say about Sessions and Kelly’s visit:
“While they are here, they will see a border region that bears little resemblance to the rhetoric that comes from the administration they serve….
“…not the out-of-control border portrayed in certain political and media circles.
“Sessions and Kelly will see a community doing robust trade with Mexico. More than $21 billion in exports flowed from El Paso to Mexico in 2015, making us the largest exporter to Mexico among U.S. metropolitan areas. That export flow creates jobs not just in El Paso, but across the nation… (from http://www.elpasotimes.com/story/opinion/editorials/2017/04/19/el-paso-much-show-sessions-kelly-editorial/100668718/)
As for our representatives, both Democrats and Republicans are hopeful too.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat, said he wants Kelly and Sessions “to understand that the safety of our community has been undermined with…calls for ‘military style’ immigration roundups and with the atmosphere of intimidation and fear promoted by this administration.”
Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican who represents the eastern portion of El Paso County, is, “hopeful that they will listen to the law enforcement agents on the ground and realize that a wall from sea to shining sea will be the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border….you can’t have a one size fits all solution to the border.
“We can secure the border and continue to facilitate the movement of goods and services at the same time. These are not two cities separated by an international boundary. It’s one community separated by a border.”
Some locals are taking a little more aggressive stance.
Like the recently-formed Borderland Immigration Council and Border Network for Human Rights, a long-standing human rights group. They’ll be holding a picket line and press conference tomorrow to protest “the continued rhetoric demonizing border communities and Trump administration actions to criminalize migrants and militarize the border.”
They’ll present actual cases of people who have legally sought asylum protections here and have been incarcerated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), even though they pose no danger to our community.
I’ll join them at the Federal Courthouse.
And I may not be throwing any tea overboard (a little hard to do in the desert 😊). But I will find a way – like many other like-minded Americans – to use my freedoms and my voice.
Where’s Paul Revere when you need him?