I have come to know a number refugees from a nation under the severe rule of a larger, more powerful neighbor. (To protect the safety of the families the refugees left behind, I will not name either country.) Every one of them—most as children—escaped by walking over staggeringly tall, snow-capped mountains. Finding temporary refuge, they worked, scrimped, struggled with a new language, and eventually crossed the ocean to the U.S.
A cardinal rule while crossing the mountains, they tell me, is to keep moving. The area is heavily patrolled. Should a member of your group break a limb, fall into a river, or what-have-you, you move on. To stop to help is to expose all to risk of capture.
They describe terrible conditions in their homeland. One man, now in his early 40s, was severely beaten by police for hoisting his country’s flag over his school. He was 14 and departed soon after. For their own safety, his parents explained his disappearance by telling authorities he had died. Others tell me of jail time, fines, and beatings for displaying the “wrong” religious symbols in their homes. When my refugee friends video conference with family in their homeland, knowing the calls are monitored, they take care not to identify themselves by name and not to display flags or religious symbols lest they expose their families to risk of beatings, fines, and jail.
Their gratitude and relief for being in the U.S. is immeasurable. One 30-ish man--who trekked across the mountains at age seven!—told me, “I understand your criticism of U.S. politics. But I have to tell you, this is like heaven to us.”
I saw his point and let it rest. This was a time for listening and empathizing, not for pointing out that “things could be worse” is no argument for complacency, for the need for vigilance lest the worse that things could be become reality.
I’m pointing it out here, to the rest of us, instead.
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... where I share thoughts about writing. I don’t consider myself a writing authority, but that doesn’t keep me from presuming to blog like one. Oh, and I reserve the right to digress when I feel like it.