Today is June twentieth of two thousand eighteen. I’m writing this post because after watching the news and my social media feeds over the past few days I’ve decided I don’t want to look back at this time in our history only to remember that I watched and said nothing. So as small a gesture as writing a blog post is, at least it’s something.
When I was in fourth grade my parents left me at home with my baby brother while they went to the Officers Club for an evening out. Leaving kids home alone wasn’t frowned upon in the eighties like it would be now. Those days we were stationed in Rota Spain and living in a nice Spanish villa near the center of town. I should mention we had no phone in the house or television which wasn’t uncommon back then for a military family with most of their possessions in storage. It was just me, my one year old baby brother, some books, and a few toys.
The villa had these giant Spanish double doors that must’ve weighed a hundred pounds each. The doors were crafted of thick dark wood with beautiful inlaid carvings though I was too young to appreciate such things at the time. Those doors must be worth a fortune now.
I can’t remember what time it started, but I remember it was dark outside already. My brother was being fussy in his play pen, I was doing my best to keep him entertained.
The first crash was so abruptly loud I questioned if it even happened. My brother ceased his crying instantly and there was perfect silence for a moment. We stared at each other in confusion. Then came the second crash. It came from our Spanish doors. Someone was trying to break them down. My brother, not fully understanding the situation but sensing danger, began to wail.
The crashing against our doors and my brother’s cries would go on for hours.
After the initial shock I ran to the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife. Then I stood in front of those doors, watching them vibrate with each deafening crash, waiting for whatever was outside to burst through. For the first time in my life my mom and dad couldn’t help me. The police couldn’t help me, no way to contact them anyway. No one could help me.
I waited and waited.
I was nine, I couldn’t help anybody.
Eventually it stopped. My parents came home not long after and found a shoe and a pack of cigarettes just outside our front door. I remember my step father being angry. He suspected one of the Spanish Navy sailors from our base, likely drunk, was responsible for terrorizing us.
The US and Spanish Navies still share a base in Rota to this day. Despite it being quite late at night, my step dad drove me up to the gate where Spanish sailors enter and exit their side of the base to ask if someone had returned without a shoe. He intended to have the man court marshaled. The guards either didn’t see anything or wouldn’t report on one of their own, but I was grateful to my step dad for at least trying to do something.
Maybe that’s what I’m trying to do right now.
Our big heavy Spanish doors became a source of dread for me after that. Apart from being massive and foreboding, I never realized how noisy they were. After that night I noticed everything. The doors creaked loudly every time someone used them. It was a gross, dying sort of sound, like an animal about to expire. It made me cringe inside every time I heard it. This went on for weeks.
I wanted to do something about it but didn’t want to tell my parents. My step dad was a pilot in the US Navy, my hero at that age. The thought of showing any weakness in front of him always made me hate myself. So I cringed at every creak in silence.
Eventually I came across a can of WD-40 in the garage or something. The blue and yellow can with its tiny red straw sticking out from the sprayer is still pretty vivid in my memory. I was too young to know what a lubricant was but I think my mom explained it to me.
I must’ve sprayed every hinge on those damn Spanish doors ten times until my parents yelled at me for “wasting” the WD-40 and told me to go find something constructive to do. The doors barely creaked at all after I was done with them. It felt good to finally be a normal kid again.
Sometimes in life the only thing that can fix you is a lubricant.
Currently we have a situation where thousands of immigrant children are being separated from their parents at our borders and being held in facilities with high fences. Even under the best of circumstances it would be difficult to manage all of these children without some getting lost in the system or harmed by a poorly supervised adult with predatory intentions.
The reports I’m getting are of disorganized chaos.
One facility only has four overwhelmed case workers to keep track of hundreds of children, all of them with different needs, some of them recently orphaned.
I’m not going to try and make the same arguments that have already been made. I won’t say that many of these people are asylum seekers making the long and dangerous journey from South America through Mexico to escape horrific violence. I won’t ask you to imagine what it would take to make you leave the country you grew up in for an uncertain future somewhere else with wife and young children in tow. It won’t change anyone’s mind. It hasn’t.
What I will say is now they are here, and they are in our custody. OUR custody. Consider what that means for a moment. Custody is the care or guardianship of someone or something. Whether you are the police, a foster parent, or even a school teacher, when someone is in your custody, everything that happens to them is your responsibility. Our responsibility as a country is to care for, protect, and above all treat these people with human dignity, they are in OUR custody after all.
Unfortunately it’s not possible to have a conversation about people in our custody when our leaders refer to them as “coming here and breeding” or “infesting our country”. These terms are not, and should not, be used to describe human beings. It only serves to dehumanize them.
Our immigration system was broken long before we started separating families. It’s been creaking along for quite a while now, but the past few weeks the creaking has gotten louder. The outcry from both sides on the news and social media is reaching a thundering cacophony. Of course neither side is hearing each other.
The question of how we should handle immigrants and asylum seekers isn’t an insane one. The question of whether or not we should further traumatize children by locking them up away from their families is. Yet the sheer number of people who would argue otherwise is shocking, many of them Christians. It takes some Grand Canyon sized balls to stand in front of a crucifix, inside a building with a pointed roof, and sing songs about love and salvation on Sunday and then click the like button on a presidential tweet on Monday. As Gandhi once said, “You Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
The system is clearly broken. We are broken. Maybe the crucifix isn’t what we need right now, or maybe it is. What we for sure need is a lubricant to fix this broken, creaky system. That lubricant is empathy. Only by remembering what it is to be a child and to be afraid can we start finding a common voice. A voice that sings in unison, loud enough for our leaders to hear us saying this is not who we are. This is not the America we want to be.