“Why would a poor person go to work for nothing to help other poor people?”
I was the hapless prey cornered by an angry tiger. I had no answer, and Mom wouldn’t budge.
Poverty and racism had made her bitter. She’d watched her dreams of a Northern safety net turn to smoke. I’d decided to move west and serve as a volunteer with a government organization dedicated to helping those in poverty. It would be my first trip on a plane; I would meet people from places I’d hardly heard of in America. It was one of the things I had to do to find my way.
“Are you getting paid?”
They say silence is the better part of valor. No one could give a demeaning snort like my mother. But I continued on my path to service anyway because…service is in my DNA. My father served: in the armed forces, in the community, in church. He was committed, in spite of his faults, to making the world a better place. On the subject of committing time and action to help others, however, my mother and he did not agree.
I have never understood how someone could watch another suffer and not feel the need to serve. Today, watching the news of children crossing the border from Central America, that memory came up for me. Perhaps it’s because I recognized within me that same desire to make things better for others. Perhaps it’s because after all these years I still wanted to see that we, as a country, would come forward with compassion, integrity, and dignity.
I was glued to the television, disappointed with the images of people carrying signs and spitting at buses. They held their fists in the air, and their mouths were little anuses with the feces of hate pouring forth. Had we gone back in time to the 60s? Seriously? These were the folks that had the media’s attention? Later, I learned that there were only about 50 of them. How could so few burn up so much oxygen?
I once heard a television news editor express his disappointment that, in today’s news room, he could find as many sales as news people. Broadcast news is bought news. My take away was that sponsors, not people, choose what we will hear and see. So, here I was watching a bunch of ignoramuses supported by commercial interests.
People of all faiths and people of no faith are coming forward to serve. Hundreds are are opening their hearts and their arms to help. From all over the country, in Dallas, Texas and San Diego, people are offering shelter, food, clothing, money, time and prayers for these children and their parents.
I suppose, the haters will never go away; they have existed throughout history. They appear in some form in every millennium, taking up precious oxygen that’s needed to do the work. Blessedly, it seems that the Lovers are in charge, if less visible.
Back to my mother. Back to me.
I got on the plane and arrived on the West Coast. I was filled with courage, enthusiasm, and curiosity. We received training, cleaned streets, fed preschoolers, assisted with adult literacy classes, and met the most dynamic group of Catholic activists ever. I sent her letters and made phone calls, but Mom could never understand. Not then; not now.
One thing I came to understand, however, is that her resistance did not come from hate. Even if she didn’t know it; even if I didn’t know it, the gap between her and haters was wide. I learned in later years that she sent money that she didn’t have to organizations making life better for others. Although she would never tell me then and cannot tell me now, I think that her resistance was one of coming from the legacy of southern violence. Violence, as I know well, leaves the worst of scars in our cellular memory.
Will the children and families coming to our borders see us as allies or friends 10, 20, 30, or 40 years from now? If we choose to serve, the answer is clear.