The little boy’s crystal-blue eyes gleamed with mischief, his black hair gelled to a peak at his forehead in the way that younger brothers aspire to be as cool as their older siblings.
The one daughter who was at home cuddled in next to her little brother, a shy grin on her beautiful face, her ink-black hair swinging in a ponytail. The mother had the same crystal-blue eyes as her youngest son, the same quiet familiar smile as her daughter. The husband was effusive in his explanations of life in America, which began one month ago plus 10 days.
This family from Syria escaped their nation’s bloody civil war and languished in Jordan for three years until gaining clearance to emigrate to the United States as refugees. I met them thanks to my work with Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, to help tell their story to the public and advocate for more open doors to refugees seeking safe haven.
As I scribbled copious notes, I felt thankful for being born here. How often can I attest to that? Unfortunately, we take our freedoms for granted.
Those of us raised in the memorized words of “land of the free, home of the brave,” we spend more time complaining and gossiping and coveting what our neighbor has than realizing how damn lucky we are to have anything at all.
At times in Jordan, the family told me, there was no money for bread for the children. I don’t care what happens to me, the husband said, it’s my children I came here for. Now they have a future. Now they have opportunity.
My grandfather was one of those children – born in America to parents who fled unrest in Poland for the promise of peace and opportunity in America. If my great-grandparents hadn’t dared to imagine a better life, I wouldn’t be here today.
Nor would many of us.
Too many Americans forget that this nation was built for individuals seeking safe haven – a place to openly practice their religion, to live differently, to live in peace.
Our brethren came here and faced the challenges and dangers of an unsettled land, withstanding all odds because they tasted a glimpse of freedom.
All of us. Even those who can trace their roots to the Mayflower.
So how can any Americans justify closing our doors, advocate limiting the number of immigrants or refugees we welcome to our shores?
Shame on any of us for believing other than the open-hand and open-arms approach to being American. And shame on all of us who don’t stand up in the face of bigotry and unfettered hatred.
This is my issue. It’s yours, too.
The wife brought me a gleaming glass of cold water. She made small cups of Arabic coffee laced with cardamom. Dark fragrant delicious coffee, steaming and frothing in my cup, and I sipped with their family and with their interpreter, all of us united by a shared story, even if it is several generations apart.
I have four children, just like them. We shared ages of our children. We smiled the knowing smiles of parents in all cultures.
You see, we all walk the same path. Any time we start to believe that we are better than, we know more than, we have all the answers, that’s the moment when we need to stop and turn around, walk backwards to the origin of our ignorance and drink a dose of humility.
Have you looked in the mirror lately? Have you become complacent? Do you hold door-shutting opinions about others?
Until we see the other as ourself – and ourself in the other – we will never find true peace.