During the summer, I crossed paths with a young woman and her son. She was lost. She asked for help….as well as she could. She is from Russia and english is still pretty hard for her. She was desperately looking for a place to live. Well, she and her son now live with us. We have two Russian citizens living in our basement. I should have said that I can see Russians from my house….that would have been more accurate…not as catchy….
I sat in church on Sunday and gathered with folks who are struggling with the shake-out of the recent election. Our pastor invited us to consider the call for us to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ by getting into relationship with immigrants, people of color, the marginalized, etc. My husband elbowed me and we shared a chuckle because we have done that…not to say that we are living the golden rule in any sort of perfect way at all…. we just have entered into a relationship with an immigrant….a pretty involved relationship.
I smile at folks on the street every day. Sometimes I give money to people who ask for it. Regularly, I hand out umbrellas to people who are standing out in the rain. I take treats to my next door neighbor and send my son over to offer help with her lawn or shoveling as the weather dictates. We donate to causes. We sign petitions. We go to marches. That stuff is pretty easy. What we are doing now is a little harder.
I remember my kids memorizing the poem from the Statue of Liberty and thinking it was so beautiful. It is one of those grand poems that makes you feel good about being an American.
Well, we have had one of those tired, poor, huddled masses given to us along with her young son.
Tatiana and Matvei needed more than just neighborly niceties. A few dollars or an umbrella was not really going to help them. They needed shelter and support. They needed a break so that they could get some traction on a stable life. They needed patience. They needed space to figure out their next steps. They needed access to services, schools, paths toward autonomy. Tatiana has an awful story of being brought here, trying to survive here and being powerless. Her story is sad but she is not sad. She is strong and determined.
Taking the homeless, tempest-tossed folks who land on our shore is complicated. I know bits and pieces of how that works in the world of policy. Now I am learning more about how it works personally.
We are definately not loving our guests exactly as we would want to be loved. They live in the basement. They have two twin beds in a small room. They have a microwave and a mini-fridge, a bathroom, a closet, a dresser, a table and not much more than that. If I am honest with myself, I would never choose that state for myself. We are not giving them the nicest room, the nicest things, access to all the privileges that we enjoy.
Sometimes, in truth, having them here aggravates me. I don’t like it when they forget to lock the front door. I am not crazy about how they keep their spaces in the basement. Her perfume gives me a headache. Her son walks into our room without knocking. Nothing really bubbles up to a level of big irritation but those huddled masses can get on my nerves. Their ways are foreign to me and I all-to-often think my ways are better. I wish her english was better so she could understand me. I can get stuck on what I might be giving up because they are here. This is not gracious. This is not loving.
I am outing myself here because I hope to grow some empathy for folks who are focused on wall-building and sending immigrants back where they came from. Living with people who do things differently is challenging. Getting out of your own perspective about what is best and what is virtuous is hard. Seeing past irritations and oddities is not as easy as we might want to say that it is. I know firsthand. I fail at offering the grace I should each and every day with these neighbors who crossed my path.
Do not misunderstand me. I am not supporting ethnocentrism, isolationism, closed borders, etc. I am just admitting that I love imperfectly. I do not neighbor as well as I could. I allow myself to be driven by self-centered impulses. I am human. .
I do keep trying to do better. I think that most of us do.