Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Enraged but engaged

I started off writing an angry tirade. I was swirling with negativity and I didn't like the feeling it gave me as I read it aloud to some friends. I'm still mad as hell, but I'm backing up a step or two and taking a deep breath. This will be an attempt to regain my footing, to get back in balance, to re-adjust my equilibrium which seems completely out of whack. 

All my life I have been on a mission. To make things better. It started with animals; rescuing squirrels that had been hit by cars, tending to birds fallen from nests, adopting stray dogs and cats. Moving on to stopping litterbugs and building trails in the woods.

And then, as a lonely, bullied teenager, I volunteered, helping Vietnamese refugees ~ Boat People as they entered our country; frightened, hungry, alone, and friendless. And that act of reaching out my hand across cultures literally saved my life. Had it not been for those people, I can’t even imagine where I would be today. Their warmth and generosity of spirit gave me purpose and a reason to go on.

That experience was so powerful, I even wrote a book about it, Weeping Under This Same Moon.

After volunteering I graduated college and was hired by the International Rescue Committee as a refugee resettlement caseworker, serving Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugee clients. It was my great joy. I was the one who got to go JFK and meet them with a sign that said WELCOME. I found them apartments, I helped them get jobs, I enrolled them in English classes, I took them shopping, showed them how to take the subway, and I was treated with more respect and appreciation than ever in my life, then to now.

Here's what I want you to know; anyone who is afraid that refugees are dangerous, taking away our jobs, are terrorists, and are destroying our country, has never met a refugee. Refugees are you and me. They are us, if suddenly we had to leave our homes never to return. Can you even imagine? You get a call at work saying it is no longer safe to return home. If you even have one. And so you leave, with the clothes on your back, and if you are lucky enough to be able to get some stuff, what would you take? In 10 minutes? What would you choose? And then you run, you hide, you make your way onto some vehicle, on land or sea and you say goodbye to everything you know and hold dear. And not just stuff. People. Friends, relatives, children, parents, siblings, lovers, pets. It is unbearable and the anguish is indescribable. And the truth is, they don’t want to come here, they just want to go home. No refugee wants to be a refugee, believe me. They want to live with their own culture, steep themselves in their own traditions, drink coffee with their own people, entertain in their own place, sleep in their own bed. We arrogantly think that everyone wants to come to America, and certainly, many do. But the dream of most refugees is to be able to just return home. Home is a powerful idea. What does it mean to you?

There are currently 65 million refugees in the world today. And now, the land of Liberty, our America, will not let them in. For fear. For xenophobia, for hate, for spite. The madness that has taken over our country is truly nightmarish. I wake most nights around 3 am and think this must be a dream. It’s no dream. It is the new reality, but NOT the new normal. It takes me a few hours to get back to a fitful sleep. 

It makes me sad as I think back to just a few months ago when I saw my adult children and their friends supporting Bernie Sanders, engaging in politics for the first time, with joy and hope for their future. And it wasn’t just Bernie, but all he stood for, all the values I taught them, come to life. Environmental stewardship, human rights, Black lives matter, refugees welcome, women’s rights, animal rights, LGBTQIPA rights, the list goes on. All the struggle and upward movement we’ve been working for and seen, gone. In an instant. That amazing trajectory of positive energy, raised consciousness, vanished. 

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's like the quote my friend read at the Women's March.

 Maybe the seed is cracking and there will be a new paradigm. All of us in solidarity can't be a bad thing.

Some days though, I feel like my joy has been hijacked, kidnapped, held for ransom. I want to file a class action suit against those who are messing with my happiness. But then I remember Deepak Chopra saying that happiness is out there, but joy is inside and no one can take it from you unless you let them. So, I'm going to try as hard as I can to keep my joy intact and not allow current events to rattle me to the core. It will be an act of will.

And as each and every one of my issues is attacked, I understand that I can't take them all on. I'd lose myself in the process. So here’s what I have decided to do to save myself. I will choose one issue that I am most passionate about. For me, it’s refugee/immigrant rights. I will talk to young people about the joys of volunteering, I will educate those who don't understand. I will allay fears, I will teach by my example, and I will ask for help when I need it.

Tomorrow, we begin production of a new audio book of my refugee story. And when it is out in the world, we will use it for good, to donate money to refugee organizations in its name. International Rescue Committee

This is what I can do.

Yes, I am enraged. But I am engaged. I will take the energy I get from this anger and turn it to good use. I will roll up my sleeves and do what it takes to change this. To protect refugees and immigrants. All MUST be welcome here. That is our creed. 

“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-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” 

I believe that still means something.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully spoken, Jana, in every way. You are one of the inspirations that keep me going when overwhelmed by despair