When Syrian children began washing ashore on Europe's beaches, I took a long hard look at our office-slash-dining room and considered the new Ikea sofa sleeper we had just purchased on clearance. How fortuitous, I thought. We could fit a family of three in here! It took about 30 minutes of negotiations with Matt before I remembered our own precarious immigration status and that our landlord might not be too thrilled with my knee-jerk decision to house a refugee family.
This week, again, I find myself looking at my means, our position and freedoms, the state of the world. Paris burned and Lebanon groaned and today Nigerians wake up again to mourning. My dear cousins work and live in inner city Chicago where gun violence and a culture of systemic poverty (not to mention police aggression and corrupt bureaucracy) have left 396 people dead in the last 10 months.
And America breaks my heart all over again, with governor after governor refusing to even entertain the possibility of resettling Syrian refugees. They're executive-ordering all over the place, men and women who know very well the lengthy and stringent policy ALL refugees must go through before resettling in the US. Still, they (and a shameful chorus-line of republican presidential nominees) continue to propagate fear and prejudice.
It's for you, it's for us, they say. We must protect our people and preserve our way of life.
Now how exactly can I touch that with a ten-thousand-mile pole?
The curse of the average stay-at-home mom, the kid in school, the lower income family with a stake in the world is that we feel powerless, unable to affect anything. We watch the news and shake our heads, we cry and pray that those in leadership, those with power will do what's right. We trust others to affect change because who are we? I left America, some might argue. Who am I to call it to account? Will you let a homeless man, a prisoner, a terrorist, a murderer into your home, they ask.
Well, no. I won't. And neither will you. In fact, no one is asking anyone to do that.
But what can we do when we don't know what to do? How do we fight against the temptation to feel helpless, to dwell in hopelessness? What do our every day decisions do to change or help anything, just one. tiny. thing?
Um... I don't really know. But here's what I'm starting: a few small action points that help me not feel so crappy about everything all the time, to fight against fear and despair, to stem the flow of shame and bitterness. It's a start. And you can do it, too.
Read your local newspaper and ask people who are in the know for recommendations. Read from a variety of news sources and NGO's. Here's just a smattering of articles filled with facts to combat fear-mongering.
- 3 important facts about how the U.S. resettles Syrian refugees
- Syrian Passport by Stadium Stolen or Fake, A.F.P. Reports
- David Miliband: Don’t Conflate Terrorists With Refugees
- How America's screening of Syrian refugees works
- The Islamic State wants you to hate refugees
- Photographer captures haunting images of Syria's lost children
Full disclosure: I do not buy into compassion shame or empathy oneupmanship. #PrayforParis all the live-long day, people. I confess to knowing very little about the bombing last week in Beirut because, honestly, I am far removed from Lebanon. But mothers I love are raising children in Paris, I've walked those streets, and Europe herself is so interconnected. It pierced my heart, and yes, opened my eyes to equally appalling heartache and terror in other parts of the world.
So, go ahead and Pray for Paris if that's the one that gets you. Or like my cousin Karin, pray for Chicago. Pray for Beirut and the families living with grief in Kenya, in Umpqua Oregon, in Australia or wherever! And pray for America, too, that our eyes will also be opened and that we are found worthy of the task at hand.
SPEAK UP (ON- AND OFF-LINE)
Usually when controversial or crazy things happen in the world, I stay a bit silent. Well, I yell loudly about it to friends in person, but online I'm more cautious. Our family's work places us in several different cultures, with friends and family living and voting and worshipping across a wide spectrum. But advocating for the lives of real people fleeing devastating war zones we can't even imagine... well, this shouldn't be a controversial stance.
So I educated myself on some things, and this morning with hands shaking I posted a wee Facebook status about it, messy feelings and all. Even offline, chatting about it over coffee with a friend will most likely expand our perception and maybe even allow us to challenge a few.
SIGN (& TWEET!) PETITIONS
If you follow me on Twitter, you'll see I've been a little more active this week, tweeting governors and the like (somewhat gratuitously). I've also found a few petitions online where you can urge the US government to recommit to welcoming refugees and write letters to your local representatives.
Then, tweet it loud and proud. Governor Brownback may never read the tweets I send him, but I want his entry-level admin assistants to feel my wrath and, maybe, pass it on.
Keep supporting orgs which promote education, sustainability, compassion and faith. Or consider sending a few bucks to an organisation working directly with refugees. Trust me, it doesn't have to cost a lot to feel like it's worth a lot. And it is. It fact, it's priceless. Here are some places you can give. If you're already giving, celebrate your good work with some ice cream. :) And if you can't give (and many of us just can't - no shame here!), most sites offer other suggestions for getting involved and supporting their work.
DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING
After spending Friday night observing the tragedy in Paris, I got up in the morning, grabbed the nearest child to me, and went out to buy Christmas shoebox supplies. We had planned on doing one all along, but our car broke down and there was bad weather and I let it get away from me. But on Saturday morning, with 24 hours till Team Hope's deadline, we bought stuff. Good, cheap stuff. Stuff a girl like Ella might like.
It was one very small thing, one thing loads of families do every year. But it was my next right thing, the one thing in my control that might make one little kid very happy in the near future.
And it was enough.