140% of all posts on Facebook right now have something to do with refugees.
It's been an interesting few months to watch this debate unfold. It's a confusing debate to me. A nuanced and complicated one. And one that has made my heart hurt.
In recent days a lot of folks have had a lot to say about whether or not refugees from war-torn places should be welcomed, allowed, or refused entry into the United States. Some of these folks are in positions of power and might have more of a say than others.
An alarming number have emphatically demanded that certain groups of refugees be refused entry into our communities. The reasons for this vary a little. Some claim that if the refugees are allowed in, at least some of them will commit acts of terror on the rest of us. Some are certain that allowing refugees into the United States before we have completely eradicated this country's homelessness problem is inappropriate. There's also this really fascinating argument floating around about refugees consuming our coveted resources.
The response to so many of these concerns seems obvious.
Refusing to lend support to a victim out of fear of becoming a target is selfishness and cowardice in their purest forms, particularly when we have so much to offer the victim.
Assuming that either opening our arms to people whose lives are being threatened or fixing a problem that is more "domestic" are mutually exclusive options is small-minded, and probably disingenuous if the proponent of the idea has never taken interest in the domestic cause until now.
And the notion that anyone is more entitled to safety, and happiness, and resources, and love because of where the person was born is not an argument I would ever want to have to try to make in front of God. Or in front of any suffering child who was born into harsher circumstances than me.
But while I shake my head every time I see someone post a harsh indictment on the refugees and their desperate pleas for help, my heart is breaking, in part, because some vivid images flash through my mind.
Over 10 years ago I met an 8-year-old little girl in Ukraine. She had blonde pigtails and she was as thin as paper. She was smart and kind. One of the most thoughtful people I have ever met.
She lived alone with her mom and on a number of occasions I visited her tiny rundown apartment. The floors were concrete. The windows were drafty. The place was completely filthy. Her mom was addicted to drugs and she was abusive to the little girl.
I knew her situation was bad and I struggled to understand exactly how I could help. But I didn't know how bad the situation was until one day when I visited the home and found the little girl there with two men.
The men looked like meth addicts and they were fighting with one another, breaking beer bottles and threatening to kill each other. We left the apartment quickly. After we got outside, I asked her who the men were and she told me that they were her mom's friends. She said people frequently came into and out of the home, that these people would get high, sometimes fight, and on occasion they were abusive to her.
I asked her what she did when things got scary at home. What she told me broke my heart.
She said she would hide in a cupboard in the kitchen and stay in it all night if she had to, trying not to breathe loudly. She would hear people scream and throw things and fight one another. She heard them get high. She said that once they passed out, she would sneak out and try to find somewhere safe to go. On occasion she would wander the freezing streets of Ukraine, barefoot, searching for refuge.
She told me that some of her neighbors would never let her in if she knocked, and that one night she was unable to find anyone who would help her, so she slept under some boxes behind a dumpster near her building.
I didn't know why these neighbors refused to help her, and I don't think she knew or really thought about it either. But I've always believed that their reasons were probably similar to the type of garbage I hear people say now to justify rejection of their fellow man.
I imagine her neighbors didn't want to get involved in the mess her family was in. That they didn't want to take in a powerless 8-year-old girl with pigtails because they were worried they might become the target of some dangerous folks if they did so.
I imagine her neighbors might have been unwilling to help because they were poor themselves, and they felt like they had enough problems of their own.
But whatever their reasons, the harsh truth of their refusal to help is that an innocent little girl was left vulnerable, cold, hungry, and terrorized. Every one of those people could have done something to stop this. Every one of those people had the power to flip a switch, and change her life entirely. And every one of those people chose not to.
When I see members of my national or local community say or do something to try to stop my blessed country from opening its arms to the terrorized, I see that barefoot raggedy blonde little girl with pigtails, tears streaming down her face, knocking on cold metal doors that will never open.
I wonder how we would feel if we weren't so lucky to be born where we were born.
I wonder how differently the pleas of the victims would sound if the voices were those of our own children, or siblings, or parents.
I wonder how quickly we would jump to help if those being terrorized were our own family members, even if we understood that there could be some risk, or inconvenience, or sacrifice associated with helping.
As for the blonde girl with pigtails--she was able to escape her situation. Some very brave and selfless neighbors ultimately stepped in and helped her, even though these neighbors didn't have many resources of their own. Eleven years later she still has her hardships and struggles, but she's alive and she's safe and she's eternally grateful for some people whose only response to seeing her tragedy was to embrace her.
There are too many people in this world who are at risk of finding an entirely different outcome than that blonde girl with pigtails if people like you and I don't use our voices and open some doors when we hear knocking.
~It Just Gets Stranger