I’ve been watching and listening carefully the past few weeks as debate over immigration in America has heated up and caught afire. I’ve heard the cries of the children separated at the border, and I’ve watched commentator after commentator spout out their rhetoric on TV. I’ve seen people close to me – from avid Trump followers to bleeding-heart liberals – share memes and tweets from wildly different perspectives. I’ve watched, and I’ve listened, and I’ve questioned. I’ve felt conflicting emotions, and I’ve witnessed contradictory thoughts. I’ve felt torn in part. I’ve felt angry, confused, helpless, fired up and complacent.
In the past when I’ve been a witness to an important social or political issue, I’ve immediately jumped to conclusions and clung to my so-called ideals. I’ve even been known to read or watch things that support my position and taken notes to form a defense of my position, just in case anyone should ask. (Spoiler alert: no one has ever asked.)
This time, I tried something a little bit different. Rather than jump immediately on board with what “my side” was saying, I deliberately tried to listen to the “other side.” As the Prayer of St. Francis famously recommends, I sought “to understand, rather than to be understood.” I decided to do this because I was feeling a little insane. Doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting a different result – that’s the definition of insanity, right? I was tired of doing the same thing (blindly siding with like-minded people) and expecting a different result (hoping the other side would see the light and change their values, viewpoints and policies overnight).
I heard some ugly things thrown my way. One in particular stood out, because it was so oft repeated. “If you care so much, why don’t you welcome the immigrants into YOUR HOME?”
If you hear something once, it’s no big deal. If you hear it twice, you may start to take note. When it’s repeated ad nauseam from many different sources over the course of two short weeks, it’s time to listen.
Why don’t I welcome the immigrants into my own home?
Do they have a point?
I’m not in a position to literally take an immigrant or a refugee into my home. But maybe the question isn’t meant to be taken literally. Maybe it’s meant to be taken seriously.
In my own life, have I blocked people from entering my own home? Yes! I absolutely have! I’ve locked my doors and set my alarm and I’ve kept strangers out of my house quite literally. More to the point, I’ve done it a thousand times over with people are not strangers at all. When a friend in need has called me in tears, reaching out for help, I’ve turned them away because I’ve had “more important” things to do. I often ignore the requests for volunteers at school functions to tend to my own matters instead. I can’t count how many times I’ve stood aside and ignored people that reached out in some way, simply because I was so absorbed with my own life, my own problems, and my own home. I’ve turned people away from me exactly as ICE agents have turned immigrants away at the border.
Have I built a wall? Guilty as charged. I’ve built a wall around myself to keep undesirable people at bay. I’ve safeguarded my heart by pushing would-be friends and lovers away from me. I’ve constructed rules, boundaries and schedules that keep people a safe distance away, so I can present the illusion that I care about their problems while keeping my hands out of their so-called drama. I haven’t let down my guard, or welcomed people with an open and vulnerable heart. I’ve built more than a wall. I’ve built a fortress.
Have I torn mothers from their babies? Oh, have I ever. I’ve torn myself from my own babies, scolding them for things they didn’t mean to do wrong and lecturing/punishing/distancing myself when they’ve needed me most. I’ve seen their tears over a mistake they’ve made and I’ve isolated myself, or isolated them, when I could have connected and we could have learned together instead. I’ve also robbed myself of many moments of connection with my own mother out of a misguided desire to prove myself or be a strong, independent woman.
I hear the cries of the tiny refugees at the border so deeply because I’ve perpetrated the exact same crime. I sneer at the idea of a wall because I’ve constructed a nearly impenetrable wall around my own heart. I advocate for immigrants to be welcome in our country because I’m unable to welcome people into my own home and I’d rather pass the buck to the legislators than actually do something about my own failings.
I sought to understand, and now I truly do. I’m not upset at the “other side.” I’m upset because I’m doing the very things I say I don’t like. The bad news is that it’s me doing this, so I can’t blame anyone else. The good news is that it’s me doing this, so I can do something about it!
Realistically, I can’t do much about our country’s immigration laws. I can vote, and I can spread information, and I can stand for my ideals and truth. But if I want to enact real, lasting change, the only way I can do that is by changing my own life. I can stop viewing human connection as an invasion on my time. I can change the way I look at my own family, friends and neighbors, and invite them into my home and my heart. I can, and I will – because change is only every possible one person at a time.