Human suffering when reduced to sound bites and headlines is easily dismissed.
Perhaps that is why a friend’s lunch guest could announce that the death of a young migrant boy from dehydration was “the mother’s fault” for taking him on the journey.
Perhaps that is why heavily armed vigilante citizens roam the back roads of known migrant routes to pour out the water left at critical drinking stations along the way.
And perhaps that is why institutions have systems that create simplistic “solutions” that ignore the cost to human dignity and safety and, all too often, to life itself.
No one I have met since moving to the borderlands of Southern Arizona moved here to become an activist.
I know I didn’t.
But then something small happened. And then another small thing. And bit by bit, those experiences piled on until it was impossible to NOT see the inhumanity and suffering in this beautiful but often inhospitable landscape.
For one, it was the knock on a back door in the heat of summer…a worn face…an unmistakable desire for a cup of water even in an unknown tongue…a thirst that, if not quenched, would lead to death.
For another, it was walking a desert trail in the neighborhood and finding a dusty, worn child’s backpack under an ocotillo, a well-loved stuffed animal hanging from the unzippered opening.
For another, it was driving home from a favorite canyon walk and noting a young man suffering by the side of the road and feeling compelled to bring him to a local Mexican restaurant where the staff could discover his story and help him recover from weeks of walking in the desert alone.
For yet another, it was the trusting hand of a small child in a shelter in Mexico asking without words to come sit under a mesquite in the desert sun and draw pictures together in a brand new coloring book, The Wall at the border visible in the distance.
For me, it was sitting in a federal court in Tucson with a woman confined to a wheelchair who came nearly every day to bear witness to the tragedy of our legal system as deportation hearings were held.
Young men, brought in chained together like common criminals, were now facing felony charges for what used to be a misdemeanor. None spoke much English. All had translators who valiantly tried to make sense out of complex legal options being presented to those who were so hungry for opportunity in America, they were willing to risk even this.
Experience, up close and personal, has changed all of us. We no longer see headlines without being able to put a human face or story behind each. We can no longer hear statements that dismiss the human suffering around us without sharing our own encounters in the desert. And we can no longer allow lies to be circulated freely without correction.
We all do what we can now.
Some hike into the desert carrying the burden of heavy water jugs to supply the thirsty. Some sit in wheelchairs in courtrooms and are simply present and praying over the lives consumed by the justice system. Some take the stand of truth in the face of rejection by their own families and in their own faith communities.
And me? I listen to stories and commit them to paper and to music and try to put human faces to the headlines. It feels inadequate in the face of so much suffering, but like the widow in the Biblical story,
it is the only coin I have left.