Shift Key Necklace

America, I’m worried.

I’ve been reading day in and day out about the Central American refugee children in Texas, and it seems so many of us have forgotten our hearts.

There are those who will argue my use of the term “refugee,” but I stand firmly behind it. When mothers choose to send their babies unaccompanied to another country to avoid the very real and imminent threat of those babies being recruited, raped, killed, and dismembered in the streets by dangerous drug cartel members, they are refugees, not immigrants.

If your house was engulfed in flames, would you not flee?

The response of some of my fellow countrymen and women both astounds and embarrasses me. Online comments such as these:

“The only real way to correct the real problem is to implement a system of forced sterilization…”

“As a Jew whose people were denied safe havens when millions could have been saved from certain death I feel sorry for them, But Mr. President these children and their mothers are not, ‘The best and the brightest’ but will become a terrible burden on our society and will greatly add to our welfare and prison rolls.”

“We cannot take every stray the world coughs up.”

“I’m sick of paying for the hungry, tired and lazy.”

“Not our problem.”

“Listen, and listen well. If you want something done right, you must do it yourself. We will have to close the border ourselves. And we will need force. And bus every child back to the other side. I hate to be crude, but those are Mexico’s kids, not ours. MAKE THEM RAISE THEIR OWN!”

“Send them back. We don’t need 70,000 more headaches…”

“I say send them away, and if they try to hop the fence we shoot them. We don’t need hundreds of thousands of immigrants here that do nothing but tax free gardening and cost tax payers money.”

“Send them back. Plain and simple. If I drop my kid off in front of the nicest house I can find, it isnt that persons responsibility to feed, house, and educate my child regardless of whatever sob story there may be about previous conditions.”

“There is a way to solve this problem that should appeal to left and right. Send them back via green technology: catapults.”

“We have got to reclaim our country from third world parasites who are draining our social services dry with their strings of anchor babies.”

“It means we will end up taking the vermin to raise.”

“Send these brats back to their homes!  Could not care less about how they are cared for here.  They should not be cared for here at all!  DEPORT THEM!”

“When people breed like rats they are bound to have difficulty but, that is their problem not the problem of taxpayers of the USA.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t read the comments, but I do. These are our neighbors, our fellow Americans, sharing their opinions.

And what I see breaks my heart in two.

What has become of our compassion? In what is arguably the world’s wealthiest nation, how can we align ourselves so strongly with such a scarcity mentality? Why do we think it’s okay to yell, “Me first! Mine first!” while shoving our way to the front of the line?

Perhaps it’s the great cultural hegemony of the Protestant work ethic; the underlying and pervasive belief in the “I worked for what’s mine, everyone else can, too” ideal. But what’s missing from that equation is the acknowledgment that we Americans were born with privilege simply because this country is our home.

My big-hearted, generous, US Marine uncle says it so eloquently: “I won the life lottery. I was born white, male, and American.”

I am continually perplexed by the knowledge that so many in America call themselves Christians and are still willing to say, “Get out. Go back. Don’t bring your disease and your language and your needs here.” Isn’t the moral teaching of all great spiritual traditions inclusion instead of conversion? Did your Jesus not say, “Let the little children come to me?” Did he not produce enough fishes and loaves to feed everyone?”

Is it my responsibility to take care of my own children? Of course. But that doesn’t mean I can’t take care of others, too — or that I won’t at some point in my life need to ask for help. And if my own children were at risk of being gunned down in front of my home, would I send them someplace safer? I can’t say. I’ve never walked in those shoes. But empathy allows me to say this: Yes, I might.

There is enough in this country to go around. Have we done a good job of taking care of our own thus far? Absolutely not. Of course there are those within our own borders that go woefully without. But we can’t say, “We need to fix ourselves first before we can help others.” These people don’t have the luxury of time.

And to believe that these children aren’t our own also saddens me. Whether we want to be or not, we are global citizens. And our country has contributed in numerous ways to the current situation in Central America. We can’t sell them their guns and create a market for their drugs and not accept the responsibilities that result from those decisions.

Do we have our own guns and our money and our privilege grasped so tightly in our patriotic hands that we can’t open them up to those in desperate need?

America, we’re better than this.

Sometimes the right thing to do is more about kindness and concern than politics and capitalism. And sometimes it’s not about shouting, “You dumb libtards!” and “You greedy conservatives!”

Here’s what I suggest…

Instead of spitting and screaming at bus loads of frightened, anxious children as if they’re worthless animals (or worse), give each of them a face.

That girl with the dark eyes and ringlets? Does she look like your sister when she was little? Give her your sweet sister’s face.

See that boy lying on the cold, hard ground covered with a thin Red Cross blanket next to the Port-a-Pot? Imagine your precious son’s face on him instead.

And then — to continue making our hearts softer and more vulnerable — extend that practice to your own corner of the world.

Your white-haired neighbor shuffling to the mailbox? Give her your beloved mother’s face. Would you then be more inclined to fetch her mail, to take a moment and smile at her, to ask about her day?

The tired mother on the bus, the one with the screaming toddler? Give her your best friend’s face. Then offer her your seat and a word of encouragement.

The middle-aged man, struggling to make ends meet, to feed and clothe and house his family? Give him your devoted husband’s face. Perhaps then he’ll look less worthy of your judgement and more deserving of your support.

The parents who chose to put their children on a bus that might save their lives? Imagine them not as callous opportunists eschewing their responsibility. Imagine them, instead, with tear-stained faces and worried, breaking hearts, second-guessing their decision, praying their beloved children find warm arms instead of a violent, bullet-riddled death. Look in the mirror. Give that mother your own face. Try to imagine the impossible, desperate decision.

And even if some who’ve arrived have ulterior motives for their journey, wouldn’t you rather err on the side of humanity?

There is no easy answer, no panacea to this situation. What I suggest changing, however, is the conversation about it, the response to it, to other human beings who — by life’s lottery — were born there instead of here.

What I suggest is compassion.

Let us not be angry, hateful, greedy, divisive Americans. Our world needs us to be better than that.

Here’s what I’m imagining today… that 12-year-old boy in a Texas holding center? The one’s who’s frightened beyond belief and homesick and nauseous and wondering where he’ll find a kind face? The one who could, in different circumstances, be my George? I imagine him in twenty years finding a cure for cancer or AIDS. Let’s create those possibilities.

I imagine him not as a threat to my children, to my way of life, to my existence, but instead, I see him as a human being full of potential and in need of an opportunity instead of a slamming door.

Because that is, in fact, who he is. A human being — a child — in need.

And there but by the grace of whatever god you do or don’t believe in, go the rest of us.

We Americans won the life lottery. What a selfish, scarcity-driven mentality it is to hold our winnings so closely, to spit in the faces of those who weren’t given the right numbers.

When we are driven by fear — of those who look different or speak a language we don’t understand, of losing our wealth, of living with less, of making a difference, of sharing our blessing, of acknowledging our privilege — there is little room left for empathy and love.

We are better than that.

Aren’t we?

~ ~ ~

Thank you, GSS, for your online comment, for reminding us of this:

“What short memories we Americans have! My husband was one of some 10,000 European Jewish children–all unaccompanied–who were put on trains (Kindertransport) at the outset of WWII. At that time, the US Congress passed a resolution denying these children refuge in the US; most ended up in England, Scandinavia, Palestine, Australia, etc. Each child was allowed to take a small suitcase of clothing (no money or valuables) and ID papers. Despite incredible hardships, the children at least survived. My husband and his brother eventually earned PhDs, established families, and became leaders in their respective professions. Today, we have an opportunity to atone for turning away the refugees of 1938. I, for one, would welcome fostering some of these children, just as British strangers fostered my husband and brother-in-law while their parents died in gas chambers. Most Americans are children of past immigration, both legal and illegal. Why have we grown so self-centered and heartless?”

~ ~ ~

“Mercy” ~ Dave Matthews Band

Don’t give up, I know you can see

All the world and the mess that we’re making

Can’t give up and hope God will intercede

Come on back

Imagine that we could get it together

Stand up for where we need to be

Cause crying won’t save or feed a hungry child

Can’t lay down and wait for a miracle to change things

So lift up your eyes, lift up your heart


Mercy, will we overcome this

One by one, could we turn it around

Maybe carry on just a little bit longer

And I’ll try to give you what you need

Me and you and you and you

Just want to be free

But you see all the world is just as we’ve made it

And until we get a new world

I gotta say that love is not a whisper or a weakness

No, love is strong

Now we gotta get it together

Till there is no reason to fight

Mercy, will we overcome this

One by one, could we turn it around

Maybe carry on just a little bit longer

And I’ll try to give you what you need

Mercy, what will become of us

Have we come too far to turn it around

Ask too much to be a little bit stronger

Cause I wanna give you what you need

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19 Responses

  1. Yes. Just might be my favorite ever of yours. So saddened by what is happening to these children and cannot fathom the cold hearts that can turn them away.

  2. What makes me so sad is that we seem to celebrate huge American families (Duggars?! 19 & counting now?) but have no room for the helpless. We seem to have no problem supporting Americans who have been here more than a generation, some of them on welfare for multiple generations, but we somehow have forgotten that at one point, almost ALL of us have come from immigrant roots. How can we scream about abortion being “wrong” when we won’t care for children and widows? How are those lives any less precious?

  3. There is a police procedural set of novels that I read, written by Michael Connelly. The main character is a very flawed guy called Detective Harry Bosch. He’s a homicide cop. Once when he was asked why he works as hard for some down in the street person as he does for somebody with money and power Harry replied, “Either everybody matters or nobody matters.” That’s all you need to know.

  4. Choose love over fear, America. It’s really pretty simple. Extraordinary piece, Katrina. Holding space for this country to rise up and “err on the side of humanity”.

  5. This is so beautiful on so many levels. First, I love your uncle’s words, they remind me of my husband’s to my daughter: ”We’re lucky kid, we won the passport lottery.” (By virtue of being born in Canada.)
    Another is that his father was one of the Little Immigrants sent to Canada from the UK; and his finding a home and a life in Canada are the reason I get to write about the wonder of my husband and daughter as the best part of my life.
    Third, Dave Matthews gets me every time.
    I also find it impossible to look at children in dire circumstances without imagining my daughter’s face as theirs. Living here in Qatar, we hear more about the plight of Syrian children than Mexican, but children are children. How can we ever forget that?
    And lastly, you just write so beautifully. There is hope for the future in your words. Thanks for that.

  6. Thank you for putting into words what I have been feeling since this travesty began. What I cannot understand is how people cannot immediately see THEIR OWN faces in the faces of those frightened children. Judging and condemning their parents does not change the fact that they are INNOCENT CHILDREN. Love, all we need is love.

  7. What an incredible piece. Brings tears to my eyes. My grandmother and her sister were also Jewish survivors from WW2 who rode on the Kindertransport to England from Vienna so I can say I would not be here today had England not opened their hearts to those children in need. Like you expressed, while they may not to “our children,” all children deserve love, safety, and a chance to fulfill their potential. And those mothers are so strong and selfless to watch their children leave. I cannot even imagine. Jesus calls us to love. God calls us to love. The world needs love, not judgement.

  8. I agree. We need to stop supporting huge corporations and multi millionaires and do the right thing in America.

  9. Yes! These are our children. I am so saddened by the responses of many people. I have five children of my own…you bet I would do everything in my power to protect them from danger. Even if it meant sending them across a border illegally. Thank you for your post.

  10. This right here – is when our priority will rise up. Opinion or politics or just plain LOVE. We all need practice in offering the grace we say we are thankful for. Lord, help us all in this! To treat every person as worthy of the love you have shown us! Write on, Katrina.

  11. Not only do I share your name, but I share your thoughts on this topic. Where are they putting all these children? Are the giving them to foster homes yet? I’d like to take a few into our home. We are a family of 10 kids and two parents over here, but there’s still room. Well, not really, but we’ll scooch over 😉

  12. AMEN!!! Brought to you via your messy beautiful summer blog over @ Momastery, and will be folloiwng you forever more. 🙂 I have read a few of your essays heretoday, and I have to say say, your words and wisdom, honesty, compassion, patience with yourself and your children, your truth and your love is so encouraging. Thank you!!!

  13. I’m a senior & not very tech-savvy… Came upon you via Monastery & LOVED your writing/ thoughts! I’d like to read more but don’t know much about following your “blog”. My email will be below & maybe someone can advise me…. The most important words to me keep reappearing: “LOVE! It’s all about love.” I’m looking forward to reading more, Katrina!

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