I see the picture I posted in my last entry did not publish. I saw it on Facebook and thought it worth sharing, but they might have some special something or other that prohibits me from sharing it. It was a picture of the Statue of Liberty sitting at the base of the Eiffel Tower, tears flowing down her face while she lay some roses on the ground.
Many states here in the US have decided to close their borders to the Syrian refugees. It's been a pivotal discussion point for many, and there is no middle of the road on this topic, apparently. Otherwise logical, maybe even somewhat mild mannered folks are speaking up with vehemence, both for and against.
We've seen this before in the US, where we say give us your tired, your poor, and then in the next breath, we say the borders aren't open.
I don't think most of us really understand just how desperate one is when one has had to flee one's country with very close to nothing. Where we've seen friends, family members, communities slaughtered in front of our faces.
I just found out Gander in Newfoundland, Canada, is once again opening itself up to welcome those who need a place to land. For those of you who haven't ever heard of this community, I urge you to read, The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland, by Jim DeFede. You may want to have a hanky or two close by as you read it.
In a nutshell, after the attacks on 9/11, the US decided to close all airspace. Some folks were midair when it happened, and could not land in the US as originally planned. Thousands arrived in Gander, and the book chronicles some the events and some of the people who lived there and some who arrived with no place to go.
I live in one of those states where the Governor has decided NOT to allow Syrian refugees. Four generations ago, my people made their way across the Atlantic in hopes of a better life. They weren't refugees in a war-torn area, but they weren't anyone special, either. Just ordinary people looking for a new place to call home. I never knew why they emigrated, only that they did.
At my last location, a friend of mine who worked for the Department of Labor had a young man in her office one day. He couldn't speak much English; he could speak French and an African tongue that was unknown to my friend. She did know about ten words in French, and she worked out that this young man had seen the word "Labor," and figured he could get a job there.
Turns out this young man fled for his life, arrived in the US, in New York City, had a phone number he needed to call as that person would help him. This was back when there were pay phones and very few people had cell phones. The young man dialed the number, but it was disconnected.
He ended up making his way a couple hundred miles south and was staying at a homeless men's shelter. He wanted to find a job, and here he was in front of my friend.
This story really deserves an entry all to itself, but let me just say here that everyone who met this young man wanted to help him. And we helped as we could.
I've worked with new immigrants and refugees in various jobs I've had. Some of these people were living lives not unlike my own, when the political climate changed quickly, and they found themselves running for their lives. Some of these people who were now clearing away dishes or mopping floors had had servants to do such menial tasks in their old life. Others had always worked hard and what little they had was blown up or taken away.
Yes, I understand the risk that there can be posers in a group of refugees, who want to infiltrate and set up a terrorist network. Yes, we already have enough crazy people here, and we read about them in the news every day. But I think it's a risk worth taking. If it were my family, my friends, the refugees with whom I've worked, i'd want someone to help them if they could. So, who am I to do less?
What to do? Why this weighs so heavy on my heart, I cannot say. Perhaps it's because of the young man I met who was fleeing for his life and ended up in my friend's office. Perhaps it's because I lived in Paris for a school year and love her fiercely. Perhaps it's because it's my turn to pay it forward or back.
So, when I heard that Gander was welcoming the Syrian refugees, and because I live in a state where we probably won't have any arrive, I decided that if I can't welcome them to my state, I can help others who are. I googled Gander and found out the phone number for their municipal offices and called. I explained that I lived in the US in a state that was not far from Canada and was NOT welcoming the Syrian refugees. I heard that Gander was, and because of what they did after 9/11–and here my voice broke–I wanted to help in some way. I could send a check (or cheque, since we're talking Canada). Did they have a process set up for that yet? The woman said she wasn't sure, she'd check with the mayor's office (I had dialed a different department), and she'd get back to me. I gave her my phone number and email address, in case one way was more convenient for her than the other.
For those people whose people have been there for millennia, it probably doesn't make sense. For those of us where it's either been a personal experience or recent history, it perhaps strikes a different chord. I feel we must do what we can.