Tonight my heart is breaking and my cheeks are stained with tears not only for the atrocities we have weathered in the last 48 hours and those we have lost and continue to lose throughout the world but for the polarizing of our breathren, each seeking to raise his or her own agenda in the wake; which tragedy is the worst, whose nation is most under siege, how quickly can we close our borders and stockpile our weapons?
I was meant to write a comedy tonight, a comedy about healing and laughter in a world quite literally gone mad; my world. But I don’t feel like laughing tonight. No, tonight I am angry. Angry not only that violence begets violence, but at the swift nature our fear so completely clouds our judgement.
Tonight is the democratic debate and already the candidates are scrambling to address the need for tighter borders and more guns, more weapons, more, more, more, knowing that isn’t the solution but terrified that these newest attacks will result in a turn of the tide by a petrified, shell-shocked constituency fearful for their safety and the lives of their loved ones, desperately clinging to any agenda which promises to keep them far from tragedy and willing to provide them a common enemy to blame.
The blood is still wet, the wounds still fresh and already the rumblings have become a cacophany to close the borders and turn away the thousands of refugees fleeing certain genocide in their homeland. How often have we heard the beat of this same drum? “Of course it’s terrible, but it’s not our problem and we have to protect ourselves.” Tibet, Laos, Iraq, Guatemala, Croatia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, Somalia, East Uganda, the list goes on and on and these are not even in our history books. Even after Katrina, when our nation came together under the worst national disaster in our modern time, after the dust settled, it was easier to ask that the displaced (poor) American refugees be housed somewhere else, somewhere more appropriate than our backyards, somewhere we didn’t have to feel so uncomfortable.
I have been blessed in my lifetime to never have had to flee for my life and I cannot even fathom the terror Syrian families are facing now at the hour of need when they are looking at being turned away at the border and returned to a country in chaos and an existence of suffering and possible death. But in a very small way I can relate to the choice which we face as a nation and as members of the human community.
When I worked for a cruise line whom I shall not name here for the sake of deniability, one day at sea, we encountered a small boat in distress waving a white flag. Aboard this humble, home-made inflatable tub were five men wearing wet suits. Their motor had stalled and they were too far out to swim to shore. Pity for them, they were also Cuban. We circled them for several hours keeping watch as our managers met behind closed doors trying desperately to find a way to discretely bring them aboard as we all silently prayed they would swim for shore. They were so close but too many people had seen, guests had spotted the little boat, photos were taken, statuses posted, bloody great internet that day so close to shore, and our managers were left with no other option than to call the Coast Guard who reluctantly obliged with a rescue. We all knew what lay ahead because the rules were very clear. If they could set foot on American soil, of their own volition, they could seek political asylum. But once the Coast Guard intervened the law was clear, they had to be returned to Cuba.
Our managers called us into a meeting that day to explain why they would not be following up, why there would be no meetings, no inquiry into their status or welfare, why we would never in fact speak of it again. We had condemned these men to certain death. Well, not certain, that window of doubt was our one vessel of hope and we clambered aboard. But that night, alone in my cabin I cried for hours. I wasn’t in management, I wasn’t making the decisions, I didn’t have the power. But I felt in collusion, even in my silence. I cried every night for several days, every night trying to convince myself there was nothing I could have done, each night feeling the gentle whisper kiss of doubt upon my cheek as I drifted off to a troubled sleep. I don’t know what I could have done, but I know that if a simple act of courage, if opening my door had been an option, I would have taken it. Closing the borders will only give us a false sense of security but at what price? Our humanity cannot be bartered for the sake of convenience. We must keep our hearts and our borders open for ourselves, our souls, our children and our humanity.
Porte ouverte, Je suis Paris. Je suis coeur ouvert.
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