I had to pull the car over, I was crying so hard. Yesterday morning while coming back from preschool drop off. Listening to NPR for morning news, one of my favorites is the BBC Newshour. The correspondent was in a refugee camp for Syrians in Turkey, reporting on the largest humanitarian disaster in decades.
The focus of his report was one family he traveled with. He described in detail a 4 year old girl with a pink zip up sweatshirt and sequins on her jeans, who was dirty and hungry, scared and cold.
Picturing the scene in Turkey, all I could see was her:
The pink zip up sweatshirt hanging in our closet, waiting for cooler days. The sequined jeans she wore just the other day. While my baby was being cared for, kept safe, and playing at preschool, blissfully unaware of the horrors this world contains, another 4 year old girl – some other mother’s baby – her childhood ended in an instant, her innocence shattered by the dropping of bombs. This is the reality of war.
I could not stop crying as the news segment rolled on. Of course I had heard about the Syrian refugee crisis, and of course I was concerned. But deeply flawed human that I am, it did not hit my core until the moment a man a world away was describing someone who could have been my child – who was my child – broke through the stone and found the wounded flesh beneath.
In Scripture, God tells us that he will take our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh. Sounds good, right? Great, except flesh feels things that stone never will. It takes a tremendous amount of force to hurt or alter stone, but flesh? Flesh feels everything, and if you’ve ever had a scar, you also know that the things that wound flesh also change it.
God is going to give us hearts that feel, that can be wounded, and that can change. He longs to give us hearts full of compassion, mercy, and joy. We have to let him, knowing it will take time. It could take the length of our days. The stone and flesh with coexist together, often leading to painful moments of startling humility.
God wants us to give a shit about what matters. The fact that I just said shit does not matter. That little girl in the pink sweatshirt in Turkey, sleeping on rocks in dirty clothes she’s worn for weeks? Her suffering matters.
Some people might think that today, September 11, is not the time to be writing about this. Today is a day to remember our dead, our suffering. It’s a day about America – about the freedom and hope she represents. September 11 is a day about who we are as Americans.
That’s why today is the perfect day to talk about the crisis in Syria, the suffering of men, women, and children who are all children of God. America is a nation founded on the existence of hope for a better life, and freedom to articulate what exactly is meant by “a better life”. Today God is asking us what more we who have so much safety, so much freedom can do for that little girl and her family, and all the families like them.
To the people, especially Catholics, who have been angry, suspicious, and even malicious to the plight of these refugee families, I’d like to remind you what America is all about, on this day of remembering. Unless you are Native American, during the time when your ancestors came here with pennies, hope, and not much else, they may have been greeted by the Statue of Liberty at Ellis Island. Nearly all of my ancestors were.
The poet Emma Lazarus wrote famous words about the statue, but more importantly, about us. Today is the perfect day to remember them.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”