The day after the election, my office was unwell. The air felt toxic, the fumes of destruction wafted in and out of every floor. My coworkers openly wept at their desks and the crowds watching the newscasts on the lobby televisions hugged one another and said, “We will get through this somehow.” One woman wondered aloud if she, a Muslim, would be able to get back into the country after visiting her family. The day was full of sullen and foggy gazes, an almost tangible feeling of despair unlike anything I’d ever felt before in my three decades of life.
In the days and weeks that followed, that haze didn’t dissipate, it only became thicker and murkier. People in the middle of the country employed the rhetoric that we in the big cities exist in a bubble. They claimed we live in our liberal encampments and are therefore completely out of touch with what’s going on America. What those people fail to understand is that we in these cities are living out the American ideal every day.
People relocate for different reasons, but the cultural make-up of a city like New York or Los Angeles has been shaped by years and years of refugees. In New York, I live in Hamilton Heights, a neighborhood of Harlem, and within my building alone, there are Americans of Haitian, Dominican, Mexican, British, French and Cuban descent. Those are only the people I know from talking to them. I guarantee there is more diversity than that and again, that’s only in my building. There are straight people and gay people. There are nurses and actors, cab drivers and marketing managers. There are Catholics and Muslims, Christians and atheists. My building is New York. My building is America.
During the first year I lived in my apartment, there was a fire upstairs and my neighbors loudly went door-to-door making sure every inhabitant got outside safely. I grabbed a backpack, tossed in my laptop, phone and chargers and I got myself outside. Once I was across the street and able to turn around, I saw giant plumes of fire billowing out of two windows on the top floor. It was like something out of a movie or a special effects show at Universal Studios. Thick octopus-like red tentacles of grabby fire reached in and out of the broken windows while a steady funnel of black smoke rose into the night sky.
I live three blocks from a fire station, so by the time I was outside my apartment, seven trucks were parked on the street with what looked like an army of firefighters running in to snuff out the blaze. While our local heroes set themselves to ending the fire, two women, one white with a heavy Brooklyn-esque accent and one Hispanic with a heavy accent of her own, wandered through the crowd on the street. They wove through the onlookers asking each person, Are you alright? Did you get out okay? I live in the building next door and I’ve got blankets and pillows and a place to charge your phone if you need it tonight.
Person-by-person, they checked on us. They converted their apartments into shelters for those who were displaced and brought out the most holy of sacraments for the rest of us, sandwiches and bottled water. When it became clear the amount of water used to extinguish the flames had damaged all the apartments below the fire, they helped the affected mothers get their children to bed on their borrowed couches and pull-out beds for the evening. Strangers became babysitters, chefs, and caretakers because that is what we do for each other here. Here in Hamilton Heights. Here in New York City. Here in America.
The notion that refugees from foreign countries are unable to enter “the land of the free and the home of the brave” should dishearten anyone who in fact has a heart. This should be extra disheartening to people of faith, as the foundation of every major religion is taking care of your fellow man. Beyond the fact that closing our American borders to people of a specific faith doesn’t align with our Constitution, it betrays the principles by which America became a nation in the first place.
The fact is, people who came to America initially were religious – they were outcasts, they were homeless and they were desperate for a new start. Our country has been built on the fact that we are not one nationality, one background, one language or one culture. Today, our Dictator-in-Chief, a man who has no comprehension of the Constitution and believes he’s above the laws and processes in America, is telling the world a different story. Not only is this fascism, but this is exactly what this monster said he would do. With each passing day, there’s another blonde woman on Fox News defending the man who would rather grab her genitals than provide her with health care. Beyond that, the lies, the chauvinism, the disdain for the press, and now the unconstitutional decrees barring refugee women and children from entering the country adds up to my perpetual level of frustration hovering somewhere around “Britney with an umbrella.”
There’s a post floating around Facebook, a screenshot of a Twitter account @TheGoodGodAbove, which says, “If you think fertilized eggs are people but refugee kids aren’t, you going to have to stop pretending your concerns are religious.” Just days after that post made the rounds again and days after a “pro-life” march in Washington, we are looking at the faces of refugees who are stranded inside airports because of another executive order from a man who has no concept or clue what he’s doing. If the reports from loose-lipped White House staffers are to be believed, and I think they should be, he’s throwing temper tantrums because America isn’t letting him have his way. America – the loud one, the one that will protest and fight, the one that will cause a disturbance, the one where 3 million women and those who support them will take to the streets and declare they are not up for grabs – that America, will not let him forget that he was not the people’s choice and the things he says and does do not speak for us.
The same people who tell me I can’t pick and choose what parts of the Bible to pay attention to, are the same people who are choosing not to pay attention to 1 John 3:17 which says, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”
Ghandi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I imagine this is much of what the world is thinking when they look at the mouthpieces for our nation today. The American bubble of Christianity is a small one, its walls fortified by years of separatism and making people feel othered. The church should be a welcome place for all people and in fact, there are churches that live out that commandment. But, churches have also been a place for segregated, like-minded people to stew together, to hear from the pulpit a list of reasons why they should vote for whichever republican is running for office, and to sharpen their teeth on the rhetoric that says we are a Christian nation and therefore any other nation that isn’t predominantly Christian is evil. Pastors like Franklin Graham take to their social media accounts to support our Dictator-in-Chief and every time they open their mouths, the message of the gospel is damaged further. By backing a man who has no conscience, no integrity and who worships gold above all else, Christians can’t do what they are commanded to do, which is to show people love. Christ is compassion. Christ is empathy. Christ said to take care of the poor and the ill. I don’t see that Christ in any of these people making these decisions and I don’t see that Christ in the people backing them. And we need to remember, Christ himself was a refugee at one point.
The evening that fire ravaged the front part of my building, my apartment was spared and no one in the affected apartments were injured or killed. Mostly, I remember the kindness of those two women who wouldn’t let anyone go un-cared for. I saw God in them. I can only hope to see the same compassion in America in the coming days. We need each other, we don’t need to “other.”