Thinking back to a year ago, when my husband was preparing to go to bed, and my girls were already in bed, I’d get up from bed and make the fifteen minute drive to join a group from my church to meet asylum seekers at the Greyhound bus station in Toledo, Ohio. We were there from about 10:15 pm to midnight on Monday nights. I translated from Spanish to English and vice versa as asylum seekers arrived and switched buses. Other members of the group handed out food, over-the-counter medicine, blankets, toys, smiles, a cell phone to use, or helped figure out bus schedules.
Every Monday night I saw in their faces Mary, Jesus, and Joseph fleeing murder, violence, hunger and poverty. Some asylum seekers traveled months to make it to the Mexico/U.S. border before they presented themselves to U.S. officials. Some traveled alone. Others traveled in groups or caravans for safety. By the time they were at the bus station, they were on the final leg of their journey on their way to meet their sponsors and to wait for a court hearing to see if asylum would be granted.
I remember Yasmine, who had been a pre-school teacher in Honduras. When she learned her two-year old little boy’s babysitter planned to sell him to the drug cartel for money, she abandoned her whole life and fled to the U.S. to seek asylum. She hired a coyote, a human smuggler, to get her and her son to the border. She owes him $7,500,for getting her here whether or not she is granted asylum. That is an astronomical amount for someone from Honduras who is now unemployed. If she fails to pay up, he knows where her family lives in Honduras and will use whatever means necessary to get the money. If my three girls were threatened with kidnapping and human trafficking or if we were hungry, I’d do whatever it took to provide for them. Loving parents would. In Yasmine, I saw a desperate mom sacrificing everything for her child; not the ‘threat’ and ‘criminal’ she was accused of being as an asylum seeker.
And so I sense myself hardening—my heart hardening—toward people who downplay, ignore, or justify what is happening to Yasmine and others like her. Most have never personally borne witness to the suffering of asylum seekers or studied the history of their plight, as I have. I sense myself becoming snake-like, ready to strike. My chest tightens. My eyes narrow. You can’t see my eyes though, it happens on the inside: the eyes of my soul. I read in a scientific magazine that “slit pupils help snakes ambush their prey,” and that “a smaller pupil creates a deeper field of focus. The downside, however, is that it lets less light in.”
I can sense the humanity of those in my field of focus, those who set up and support policies that withhold help from Yasmine and those like her, slipping away as anger wells up inside of me. I see the vulnerable crushed by words, posture, and policy. I have to believe such behavior is mostly due to lack of proximity to those like Yasmine, to those fleeing with nowhere to go and no one to help. But, I can’t be sure.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines hatred as, “intense hostility and aversion,” “extreme dislike or disgust,” and “to find very distasteful.” It is to have ill will towards another instead of good will. On that definition, I have to admit hatred resides in me. Hatred damages our eyesight. While it gives us the ability to laser focus on what we detest, it also stops light from coming in. We become snake-eyed.
I am starting to understand Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:21-22 at a deeper level:
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Anger can take me to places I never wanted to go—to murder, to hell—even if it is tucked away in my heart. And I can go to those places quite obliviously, full of self-righteousness and self-justification.
And so when the humanity of those who are intentionally or unintentionally hurting Yasmine, her children, and others like them, begins slipping away within me, when to me they appear as a demon needing to be exorcised, I have to admit the truth, and take my cue from Alcoholics Anonymous (which takes its cue from I John 1:9 and other Scripture) and confess that I may be healed. So I confess: I too am capable of hatred and can justify committing the most horrific atrocities. Of murder with no regret. Of murder with glee—even if people often think me among the gentlest and most non-violent of persons.
Marlena Graves is the author of ‘The Way Up Is Down Finding Yourself by Forgetting Yourself.’ You can connect with her and her work at marlenagraves.com and find her on Twitter @MarlenaGraves