I’ve spent most of my adult life learning about periods of history that resulted in the genocide, torture, or oppression of entire groups of people: the Holocaust, Rwanda, The Killing Fields, The Trail of Tears, Slavery, War.
I’ve watched movies that show how evil dictators rise; and read books about how those being oppressed, coped.
I’ve heard good friends tell stories of how they came to America, from various regions of the world, brought over with the help of Lutheran World Relief. Biruta, who came from Latvia described how her father gave their family just a few hours notice to choose their clothes and one or two items that would fit in a pocket. They walked miles at night to get to the ship. More than once, bullets rained down all around them as they ran or hunkered low in ditches. She said that when they saw Ellis Island, it was just how you would imagine if Neil Diamond had been singing from the shore. She remembers having to shade her eyes to look at the Statue of Liberty; the sun was so bright that day.
One question I’ve often considered in the light of these stories is this: who decides when a family should flee? When do they know that the threat is such that it’s time to leave? And how do they decide where to go?
When I hear stories like Biruta’s and imagine her father leading his family to life across the ocean, it makes my heart ache. I imagine him looking in the mirror after shaving, and in that moment knowing, it was time to get his family to another country; then putting on his socks knowing that only a small portion of his family and friends would make the trip–and some might die before they had the joy of seeing Ellis Ilsand.
At this point in history, I confess, I find myself making a mental list and beginning to wonder, not so much for myself, but for those couples or families who have the ability to transition into another culture and country, is the situation in the United States to the point where making plans to do so might be wise?
Consider this short list that I wrote in a Facebook Reply tonight:
Border Security. That’s the issue, right? Because the biggest threat is those crossing the border. Many of whom, the wealthy including the president, have employed. Meanwhile, our Coast Guard, TSA Agents and 800,000 employees of our government are working without pay. Mitch McConnell just blocked a bill that would have opened Homeland Security. The SNAP Program that feeds millions of low-income families ends in 5 days. More families every day are having to choose between needed medicines and food. Capable, heroic Transgender military have been told their service is not wanted. Farmers are suffering from having their soybean exports no longer wanted in China, though China was able to triple their orders from Russia. Our journalists are increasingly at risk to be threatened, harrassed, or killed for trying to report the story. But the biggest threat to our welfare is those crossing the border? It just doesn’t add up to me. I firmly believe the biggest threat is already in the house.
I do understand that it would be tragic if we started seeing people in our circles move away. I also know the places one might consider for a new home are relatively few. On the other hand, when I think of the families that came here during WWII, risking tremendous grief and unrest, and how they went on to live for generations, the only word I can think of to describe their decision to come, is Brave. And the one word I feel in response to their bravery is: Grateful.