Friday, September 4, 2015

Refugees, Immigrants and Foreigners

"A Web of Relationship"
- along a wilderness trail -

It was the picture seen around the world yesterday- 3 year-old Aylan Kurdi, the little Syrian boy washed up on the beach like a piece of garbage or a dead fish. Along with his family, little Aylan was a refugee seeking a better life in a foreign country but the small boat he was on was far too flimsy, it collapsed and Aylan was drowned at sea just like the hundreds of thousands of other refugees who are so easily forgotten on the world’s stage.

In America, almost every day we hear talk about walls to keep out unwanted immigrants, to guard against foreigners. World-wide, the problem of refugees from countries like Syria, seeking asylum from the terrors they would face back home, has now reached epidemic proportion. Perhaps we have heard so much about refugees and immigrants that we have become immune, hardened and desensitized to their plight. It’s so easy to classify the world into camps of citizens and foreigners, those on the inside and those on the outside – it’s especially easy to do this if you happen to be sitting in the comfort of the “insiders” camp.

As I perused the media yesterday I heard people from all over the world express outrage and profound sorrow over that one image of a complete stranger, a sweet little boy washed up dead on a beach. It made me wonder if, at least for some people, that picture may have been a wake-up call, a challenge to the myth of separation that so many people have been readily willing to adopt.

Priest and author, Richard Rohr, puts it this way:

The problem is that we think we are separated from one another.

I think this is precisely the core of the problem lying at the very heart of our human suffering - we think we are separated from one another but we are not.

As I see it, the Buddha had it right when he talked about the “delusion” of a separated,  isolated ego. When we fool ourselves into believing that “I am here and you are out there” we will always suffer from this delusion because my true self is a “relationship with you.”

Yesterday, when I saw that extremely moving image of that poor little child dead on a beach I was brought to tears, and almost immediately called to mind a story once told by  Thomas Merton as he described his now-famous “epiphany” of finding his “true self.”

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut,
in the center of the shopping district,
I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people,
that they were mine and I theirs,
that we could not be alien to one another even though we were strangers.
It was like waking up from a dream of self-isolation.
Yes, the whole illusion of a separate existence is a dream.

In my heart of hearts I wondered yesterday if the world-wide sorrow and outrage expressed over a stranger’s death - little Aylan lying on that beach, was perhaps something like the cry of people all over the world waking up from that dream of self-isolation.

Aylan Kurdi, refugee from Syria, was in fact the child of each and every one of us.  It was our child who was washed up on a beach like a dead fish or piece of garbage; and so we cry for him and we cry for ourselves. We lost our baby yesterday.

I am reminded of a line from the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke - words that express my deepest hope, the hope of every human heart:

To see everything
and ourselves in everything,
healed and whole
forever!

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