This has been on my mind for some time and I have not been able to clarify or express my emotions about it. But my heart hurts right now. It hurts not only for the Syrian refugees who are being treated like pariahs by the likes of the governor of my state, but also for all of my fellow Americans who are so filled with fear that they have lost their ability to show compassion and empathy to others.
Except for those in this country who are of Native American heritage we are all either immigrants or descended from immigrants, including many who were escaping war, horrible political situations, or other dire circumstances. My great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother came to this country during the Irish potato famine to escape the terrible famine in their native land and to find a better life here. They were greeted with contempt by those who were already here, those whose ancestors had come from many other lands.
In my lifetime I have seen Hmong immigrants who fought alongside our soldiers in Viet Nam come to this land and be greeted the same way, Cuban refugees who were treated like criminals, Mexican immigrants who settled on the bottom rung of the social ladder because people thought they were stealing jobs. If the Statue of Liberty–the “Mother of Exiles”–were a real woman she would cry at what we have become. If Jesus were to walk among us he would be ashamed to see what we have become.
Prejudice and hatred are borne of fear taken to its most extreme, and we are a fearful people. We fear our own political leaders, our townsmen, our neighbors, and, especially, the strangers among us, those who do not look like us or pray like us, those who do not share the same skin or the same ideas. The melting pot has become a weapon to bash the heads of those who would look to Lady Liberty’s lamp for refuge.
I do not recognize my state. I do not recognize my country. I do not recognize the Christianity in which I was raised. I do not recognize my fellow citizens. We are told by many that this is a Christian country, but in a Christian country we would give shelter to those who have none, we would welcome strangers into our homes, we would care for those in need. We would take the tired, the poor, the huddled masses and we would care for them as if they were family.
During the height of the Great Depression, when my mother’s family had little or nothing, my grandmother gave food to itinerant men who knocked on her door fresh off the train that used to run past their house. It was the Christian thing to do, the moral thing to do. When my roommate Dan and I were as poor as I have ever been we shared our apartment with others who needed a place to stay and shared what little food we had with those who were as hungry as we were. It was the right thing to do.
It is not the decline of the family or the Constitution being undermined or Christian values being challenged that is leading this country into ruin. It is the loss of compassion and humanity. It is the idea that our lives are more important than anyone else’s lives and that we deserve what others can’t have. It is the lack of empathy, the inability to see the world from someone else’s perspective and to understand, or at least try to, how they feel.
We need to start walking the long road that will return us to a nation of giving and compassionate people. We need to find our moral compass. We need to welcome the Syrian refugees to our land as much for us as for them.