Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Immigrants and Aliens

"The Wilderness"
-Outside the Desert Retreat House-

Since January more than 50,000 children from Mexico and Central America have been detained at the United States border as they illegally attempted to enter this country. News reports about these "illegal immigrants" are heartbreaking, many calling it a "humanitarian crisis."  

Some of these kids are only five years old, all of them under 18 - thousands of children living in "detainee camps," cramped together, sleeping on floors. They are children without a country, no place to call home, immigrants and aliens, strangers in a foreign land. 

I have been paying close attention to this tragic story as it has unfolded over the past weeks, deeply disturbed at all the suffering. But yesterday something happened that shed a somewhat different light on it all for me and made me reflect on what suffering is really all about.  

In order to relieve some of the overcrowding at the "detainee" camps, yesterday the government sent several busloads of immigrants (mostly children) to a nearby town here in Southern California. As the buses pulled up to the town's Main Street, they were stopped and turned around by angry, well-fed "White" protestors. Apparently the residents of this "close-knit" residential community didn't want their nice little town to be invaded or defiled by "foreigners" who were in this country illegally.  

Hundreds of the town's "good upstanding citizen's" surrounded those buses full of teary-eyed children chanting "Go Home!" In interviews with local news reporters some of the townsfolk said they were afraid of the diseases these kids might be bringing with them.  Others essentially said that they just didn't want their comfortable lives to be disturbed by busloads of immigrant children - apparently a local minster was also on hand to lead the protestors in a prayer when all this was going on 

They stood their ground, and angrily shouted, "Go Home!" The problem of course is that these kids have no home to which they might go.

Yesterday, when I saw the reports of the angry confrontation on the streets of that little Southern California town (not all that far away from where I live ), I had a flash of insight. Yes, those immigrant children and families are suffering, but who was suffering more -  the kids on those buses or the people on that street sending those buses away?

The Buddha taught that all life is impermanent, everything is a constant flow of change and nothing ever stays forever.  Suffering comes when we fail to recognize the impermanence of life by clinging to the things of this impermanent existence. Human beings suffer when we tighten our fists and cling to our money, our possessions, our cars and homes, suffering comes when we rigidly cling to our thoughts and long-held ideas. 

When I think about those town folks turning away the buses yesterday, I see a bunch of people who are rigidly clinging to their lives; and I honestly believe that there was more suffering on that town street than in those buses full of kids. 

In some sense we are all immigrants and aliens, strangers in a foreign land. None of us has a home where we will "permanently" reside.  We are "dust in the wind" and our lives our fleeting. We are all pilgrims on a journey through the wilderness. 

Jesus told his disciples to travel lightly, never travel alone, and help each other along the way - good advice if you ask me.



  1. Sent this to the people in the small town!

  2. Hi Paul,
    I had this post re-published on my website and there was one comment of a lady I just had no answer for.........perhaps you can help me out - of course only if you want to.

    1. The ladies' comment on your site lies at the heart of what I say in my article. She is a living icon of self-centered, unduly attached people in this country and she is "legion." There is no response to a person like that except that she could lessen her suffering by letting go. No truck full of money bags will follow her hearse to the cemetery.

      It doesn't actually sound like she actually read my article to be honest.

      Thanks Alen