Humility

Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor, May 21, 2017

Greatness Manifests Humility                                                                      May 15, 2017

A recent White House dinner included several journalists as invited guests. They reported that guests were served water while President Trump received a diet coke. Guests were served chicken as the main course. President Trump’s chicken came with a side of extra gravy. And for dessert the guests were served one scoop of ice cream while Trump received two scoops, whipped cream, and a cherry.

This White House meal with the President is in sharp contrast with a meal my colleagues and I experienced in a village of impoverished indigenous Mayans in Chiapas, Mexico. The hosts insisted that we sit in places of honor at their table. They then served us the only chicken available in the village while they were content to eat rice and beans.

These contrasting meal experiences illustrate a growing tension in our country between attitudes of arrogance and expressions of humility. It seems there is a growing affinity for people manifesting over-large egos. Led by our President and some national and state elected officials, we are becoming a nation that values bluster and consolidation of coercive power over discernment and collaboration. Associating with “winners” has become more important than attending to refugees, the impoverished, and the sick. There is a burgeoning disrespect toward differing cultures, religions, and lifestyles. Effective leaders are expected to be able to force their will on others – particularly at the beckoned call of wealthy Special Interests. Internationally, The United States is expected to assert absolute dominance over the nations of the world: the strongest military, the most prosperous economy, a superior culture, and the most successful political system.

It is essential that such popular bluster be mitigated by a sense of humility. In English, the word “humility” comes from the Latin root word, “ground.” To have humility is to be grounded in a way that does not need to prove self-worth or to claim superiority over others.

The primacy of humility is advocated in many of the major religions. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks states, “In Judaism humility is an appreciation of oneself, one’s talents, skills, and virtues. It is not meekness or self-deprecating thought, but the effacing of oneself to something higher. Humility is not to think lowly of ones self, but to appreciate the self one has received. In recognition of the mysteries and complexities of life, one becomes humbled to the awesomeness one is and what one can achieve.”

In Christianity, Jesus says, “When you are invited… to a banquet… sit down at the lowest place…” From there, you may be honored with an invitation to move up higher. “For all,” he said, “who exalt themselves will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” C. S. Lewis states that, in Christian moral teaching, the opposite of pride is humility. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

In Islam it is said, The Prophet did not behave towards others as if he was better than they were, nor did he spurn manual work.  One of his companions reported that Prophet Muhammad worked happily with servants or workers.  Other companions related that the Prophet tidied his house, tied camels, fed animals, ate meals with his servants, and helped them in kneading dough and bringing provisions from the market.  It was also reported that he used to visit the sick, attend funerals, ride on a donkey, slow down his pace for the sake of the weak and accept invitations from the poor.

Lao-Tzu said, “humility … keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men (sic).”

People of privilege, including our President and elected leaders, have advantages over the general public that demand a serious dose of humility. Imagine these privileged people leading our nation toward a growing awareness that “Fullness of knowledge always and necessarily means some understanding of the depths of our ignorance, and that is always conducive to humility ” (Robert A. Millikan). Imagine people expecting a semblance of humility among members of Congress, in the office of President, and in our relationships with other nations. Imagine humility influencing our relationships with one another. Imagine what we could learn from one another, the respect that could be generated, and the problems that could be solved. Imagine electing people who are strong not by being proud and arrogant but by being humble and respectful. Imagine the impact on international leaders at a White House dinner where the host took only one scoop of ice cream so that the guests could each have two!

Humility is an amazing tool to complement the economic, military, and political strength of our country. A humble America could advance trustworthy creative relationships between our country and other nations in our troubled world.

Advantaged and influential people exercising humility could break down the economic, racial, ethnic, and gender identity barriers among us. Modeling humility could enhance the effectiveness of our democratic system. Bluster, arrogance and coercion have been tried. It’s time to give humility a chance.

No More War

Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor, May 28, 2017

MEMORIAL DAY 2017

Study War No More

Each spring, on a sunny day before Memorial Day, our family visits the graves of our parents to clean away the weeds and plant flowers. As we clean the headstone, we remind each other of the struggles and good times we had shared with our parents. The view from the family plot in this small country cemetery includes small American flags waving in the spring breeze next to grave markers of military veterans. Some had lived long lives while others had fallen in battle, much too young. There were veterans from many past wars. However, as I took in this scene, a cloud settled over the cemetery and the wind ceased to blow. The flags fell limp as if grieving with the discovery that for the past fifty years there has been perpetual war creating more veterans, more wounds, and more graves.

I was reminded again of our country’s never-ending war when I viewed a new memorial to veterans in the community where I live. There is a plaque embedded into concrete for each branch of the military. Written into the concrete are the words, “In honor of all veterans past, present, and future.” Has war become so much a part of our lives that we accept its inevitable extension into the future of our country?

The normalization of perpetual war has seeped into our society unnoticed. We have professionalized our armed forces. During World War II, military personnel were called “our boys in uniform.” Now we call them “warriors.” Joining the military is a job and a career choice. In March of this year there were United States Special Operation Forces deployed in 102 countries around the globe. Often our country leads with military action or the threat of action before initiating diplomacy. The military industrial complex drives our country’s economic health. To seek an end to war is to jeopardize the stock market and to be against good civilian jobs needed to keep the military supplied with weapons and all the materials that keep an army running.

The best way to honor our war veterans this Memorial Day is to reject the notion that it is normal to live in a time of perpetual war. In the Memorial Day ceremonies in every city, village, and town let us sing “I ain’t gonna study war no more.” Let us pledge to take military recruiters and organizations out of our high schools. Further, as a veteran, I do not need praise for being a “warrior.” Nor do I need medals and speeches for bravery or praises for my sacrifice. I need people to confess that there is no glory in war. There may be times when our country finds itself in a defensive war. But do not deny that war is a horror and a corrupter of young lives wrenched out of their home cities, villages and farmlands. Some are killed. Some are permanently disabled. PTSD is another result of sending people into a war environment that is alien to all they’ve been taught about relationships, citizenship and rule of law.

Therefore, this Memorial Day, I seek to honor veterans of past wars with my own confession. I served as an Army Medic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 1962 through the beginning of the Viet Nam war in 1965. Later, one of my brothers served as a cook in Viet Nam. I was never on a battlefield. But I confess we’ve both contributed to the carnage of war by our participation in support systems that make it possible to send men and women into harms way, some to their deaths. In retrospect, I’m sorry that I chose that path when other ways were available to me. I am unable to justify participating in the precursor of what has become perpetual war.

And so I grieve over the flag marked graves of our veterans. I seek reconciliation with those women and men who have been injured and killed during the last fifty years. I also seek to reconcile with veterans who gave up portions of their lives to military deployment. The first step is for us to commit to extracting our country from the bravado and profits of war.

We can begin by becoming a people who honor those who non-violently risk and sometimes sacrifice their lives as volunteers in risky areas and situations in our world: people who bear the name of our country as they serve through non governmental agencies such as Doctors Without Borders and journalists; serve in refugee aid projects and rehabilitation projects after floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes; and serve through organizations like UNICEF, United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and the Peace Corps. These are sometimes dangerous and radical alternatives to war and aggression. Thank them for their courage and commitment.

Finally, this Memorial Day let us say over the graves of the fallen, ‘in our grief we commit to a future where we teach the ways of peace with justice. You have not died in vain. You have created among us abhorrence for the ways of war and a passion for diplomacy and reconciliation with our neighbors.”  Then perhaps we shall notice the clouds pass away and the wind stir the flags marking the resting places of our war veterans.

Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation

Concord Monitor “My Turn,” published April 8, 2017

The phone rang at 2 in the morning. Our friend Mafaq said, “Two Israeli military vehicles have come into the village. Soldiers have entered the house of our neighbor and taken away fifteen year old Khaled.” We dressed quickly and hurried through the dimly lit maze of narrow streets to Khaled’s home. A small gathering of men, women, and children stood across the street, distancing themselves from the armored military vehicles holding Khaled inside.

We were a World Council of Churches international team of four Ecumenical Accompaniers living for three months in a farming village forty kilometers northwest of Jerusalem.   As we approached Khaled’s home, the front door opened. The family clustered around as we entered: mother, father, two young children, and a grandfather who leaped from a mat on the floor against the far wall. We were invited to sit on the mat while the grandfather demonstrated what had happened. Speaking Arabic and greatly agitated, he raced back and forth across the sparsely furnished room showing how the soldiers had forced open the door armed with United States M16 rifles, asked for Khalid, herded the family into the far bedroom, rousted Khalid from sleep in the other bedroom, put him in handcuffs, and took him outside to the waiting vehicle while they searched his room leaving his possessions scattered.

By the time the grandfather had finished his pantomime, tea had been served and the military vehicles had driven away with Khalid. His parents, speaking English, explained the soldiers had refused to give a reason for taking Khalid and would not tell the parents where they were taking him. We sat with them as they vented their helplessness, fear, and controlled anger.

We learned later that while we had been listening to this family, a sound bomb had been thrown into a home in another part of the village and another teenage boy had been taken away. These incursions into this Palestinian village in the Israeli occupied Palestinian territory were repeated four times during our three-month stay. They continue in Palestinian villages and refugee camps to this day.

A United States State Department Human Rights Report released in March 2017 highlighted “grave violations against Palestinian children living under Israeli military occupation.” Among the issues cited were the ill treatment of child prisoners and denial of fair trial rights. Other violations included excessive use of force against children and unlawful killing, use of administrative detention (held without charges), and coercing Palestinian Arabic speaking children to sign confessions written in Hebrew. The report noted a “significant increase in detention of minors in 2016.”

Between 2012 and 2015, No Way to Treat A Child and the American Friends Service Committee reported that 97% of children had no parent present during interrogation or access to legal counsel. 84% of children were not informed of their rights. Three-quarters of detained children endured some form of physical violence. “Interrogators used position abuse, threats, and isolation to coerce confessions… 66 children were held in solitary confinement, for an average period of 13 days.”

Our experience with Khalid’s family and these human rights reports challenge the relationship between the United States and Israel. Vice President Penze said on March 31, “President Trump and I stand with Israel… because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight.” This statement is disconnected from the plight of Palestinian children. Our country’s cause is not to inflict military injustice upon children. The Israeli military’s abusive treatment of Palestinian children since 1967 does not reflect our values. The United State’s fight is not against Palestinian children.

Therefore, in order to “stand with Israel,” the United States must negotiate common values to support the relationship, guided by the State Departments 2017 report on human rights in Israel – Palestine concerning children. Meanwhile, consistent with U.S. values and considering 50 years of continuing violations by Israeli’s military, U.S. Senators’ and Representatives’ actions should include withholding military aid to Israel until acceptable uses are defined. The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act supports such action. It states that no assistance will be furnished to “any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

With its over $3 billion a year military aid to Israel, the United States is complicit in the military injustices inflicted on Palestinian children. Before any more aid is given, the Israeli military must cease human rights violations, insure basic due process rights, and establish an absolute prohibition against torture and the ill treatment of detained Palestinian children. Requiring these actions is not only consistent with our own values and sense of justice but also supportive to the many Jews and Israelis who are speaking out against the Israeli military’s unjust treatment of children in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The “phone” still rings since I’ve returned to my home in Concord. We still receive posts on Facebook from Palestinian friends, “last night the Israeli military came into our village at 3AM and took away two of the children.” As Jews, Muslims, and Christians, we need to support our leaders’ efforts to withhold military aid to Israel until the military no longer perpetrates fear and hopelessness against desperate Palestinians crying out for justice. Then, perhaps, the next communication from a Palestinian will be the joy of a great olive harvest or the success of the youth volleyball team. (names in article are fictitious)

Note:  The United Church of Christ General Synod; June 30 – July 4, 2017; will consider the resolution:  A Call for the United Church of Christ to Advocate for the Rights of Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation.  See <ucc.org> General Synod resolutions for detail.

alternative healthcare debate

March 15, 2017

The debate about the Affordable Care Act, the attempt to repeal and/or replace it, is an invitation to examine the core values embedded in the various assumptions of the discourse. Three values that have become apparent are: the primacy of financial considerations, an individual’s freedom, and the right to health care for every human being.

Financial implications, for example, are emphasized in the March 13, 2017 email issue of “The White House” proclaiming, “Americans were promised that Obamacare would bring down healthcare costs Americans were promised that Obamacare would not raise taxes on the middle class.” Senator Rand Paul said on Face the Nation, “we’re not going to vote for it” (Ryan’s plan) because it creates a system of refundable tax credits. In addition, the recently released Congressional Budget Office analysis focused on costs of insurance premiums and federal deficit reduction.

Representative Paul Ryan, speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, March 12, 2017, advocated for the primacy of the value of an individual’s freedom. He seeks to eliminate any mandate on individuals to buy insurance saying, “People are going to do what they want to do with their lives because we believe in individual freedom in this country.” He proposes a plan where people are free to buy insurance in the private market. Also, National Public Radio interviews with people who are critical of ACA reveal a positive attitude toward acquiring health insurance but a resistance to any “mandate” telling them they must have it.

The problem with being guided by the primacy of economic considerations traps us in a debate about the value of a healthy human being and which of us has earned the right to be healthy. Adhering to the mantra of ‘individual freedom” leads us into a society where every person must fend for him/her self. Both of these approaches are divisive and contrary to the vision of freedom and justice for all. They ignore the reality that we’re all in this together. The freedom and health of each individual affects the freedom and health of our communities and nation.

However, there is a value that can serve us well in the debate about health care in our country. Senator Annie Kuster, in a March 10, 2017 e-mail, suggested valuing the importance of health care for every human being. She wrote, “I am ready to get to work to… find ways to help improve healthcare for every citizen.”  Logically extending her focus on improving health care for every citizen invites us to begin a serious discussion by first seeking agreement to value good health for all human beings, no matter who they are, their economic situation, or where they live.

Some cynics will suggest that it is the nature of human beings to center on individual and family fortune. For example, in the current debate of ACA some healthy young people say, “I don’t need health insurance so why should I pay for the coverage of those who are unhealthy?” However, there is another side of human nature that may be worth cultivating. Consider the times and situations that bring out empathy and care for others. How often have we observed the ways people rally after a natural disaster or a tragedy in the life of an individual, a family, or a community. People are energized and heartened as stories are told about volunteers contributing their time, skills, and money to support victims. People celebrate these situations as evidence that human beings are really good people supportive of their neighbors. It seems, in times of crisis the glorification of rugged individualism is subverted. The people of our country have a history of standing with each other. In the early years it took a village to raise a barn. Not so long ago, neighbors would help one another get the hay in before a thunderstorm descended.

It is time to refocus the healthcare debate based on personal economics and individual freedom values to the basic value of communal support for every person in our society. Contributing to this discussion can be the many stories and examples of empathy and commitments to helping others in need. In the course of the conversation the evolving nature of the human condition may surface. Could it be that rugged individualistic self-interest is giving way to communal concern? The task for elected officials and the American people will be to embrace this new possibility.

With this groundwork, the means of developing a healthcare system of economics that shares wealth and benefits and a society that recognizes freedom to be supportive of one another will begin to fall into place. Returning to the barn-raising example, once we agree that a barn is needed to shelter a given number of animals and store a given amount of hay, the details of the shape and size of the barn will soon be resolved. In the same way, when we agree we are together responsible to provide adequate healthcare for all people, the economics to make it happen will take shape. It will be a triumph for our basic cooperative human nature working for a greater America.

 

 

 

 

Methods to Silence dissent

When Senator Elizabeth Warren questioned Senator Jeff Sessions qualification to be the nominee for Attorney General, the Senate voted to silence her from further participation in the debate. Her crime was declining a “Hobson’s Choice.” Hobson was an English keeper of a livery stable, 1544 – 1632. He required customers to take either the horse nearest the stable door or no horse at all. There would be no discussion about the qualifications of the proffered horse. Senator Warren, by choosing to question the proffered choice, was in effect suggesting Sessions might not be the best candidate and the motives of the person nominating him might not be fully transparent. The Senate declared these suggestions broke the rules and were unacceptable.

This incident is an example of one of the several methods used to silence dissent since the new administration took office. It is important for citizens to recognize and name these techniques to discredit anyone who opposes an idea or action of the President or the majority party in the House and Senate. The issues needing attention in our country are too important to be overshadowed by such duplicity.

In addition to Hobson’s Choice, we have recently been subjected to innuendo, double speak (simultaneous opposing positions), shifting the focus, making up information, fear/bullying, and divide and conquer. Innuendo serves to plant suggestions of possible impropriety without stating it as a fact. Slippery language is employed such as, “I’m just asking whether…” or “people are wondering about…” For example, President Trump said about the Iran nuclear agreement, “some people say it’s the worse than stupidity… There’s something going on… I’m not saying that, half the people in this room are saying it.” (The bold is my emphasis for demonstration). Commenting on the appellate court ruling against reinstating his refugee and immigration executive order Trump said, “I don’t ever want to call a court biased, so I won’t call it biased.” However, he has planted the suggestion that the court is biased.

An example of double speak is affirming two conflicting positions. For example, one day Trump criticized the CIA for its ineptness. A few days later he tells a gathered group of 200 CIA employees that they are great and their work is outstanding.   However, he not only takes two opposing positions, he then shifts the focus to the untrustworthiness of the press. He declares the press falsely reported that he criticized the CIA. At another time he sends a double message when he says, “America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave” while he signs an order blocking people from entering our country to seek freedom from persecution and war and rejecting brave people who have put their lives in danger by aiding the United States as military translators and with other duties.

Then there are times when information is created with no basis in reality. Trump insists that at his inauguration there were “a million and a half people” filling the mall all the way back to Washington Monument.  However, photographs show several blocks empty of people.   Trump proclaimed “a million and a half people” were there, contradicting photographs and the statistic of only 500,000 people passing through the transit system.   And when the Mexican president canceled a meeting with Trump, Trump followed up the announcement with the claim it was “a mutual decision.”  Another example is his claim of voter fraud in New Hampshire without any evidence to back up his statement.

Initiating a climate of fear and bullying has also become a familiar ploy.  Concerning reports of protests against his immigration executive order Trump tweeted, “Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” (Feb.3, 2017).

He lashed out at the judge who put a temporarily hold on the order: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” And feeding fear he tweeted, “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”   Packed into these tweets are name-calling, labeling, misinformation (paid protesters), threats ( blame the judge), and fear.

There is another practice that manipulates citizens: divide and conquer. This narrative includes declaring the press untruthful. It defames government officials, the elite, scientists, and intellectuals. “I’m going to drain the swamp,” quoth Trump. He cautions against untrustworthy immigrants, refugees, and Islamic terrorists, and contrasts them with persecuted Christians. Among all of these groups, the only true American people worthy of praise are those who thrived in the post second world war society and who agree with the Trump agenda and his judgment of all others. As American people we are being pitted against each other. Meanwhile, the very wealthy are able to continue advocating only for themselves: increasing their wealth, power, and influence over the government and the bulk of the American people.

These contrivances to “Make America Great Again” take us back to when women were second-class citizens. When there were segregated schools, bus stations, and lunch counters. When gays felt they had to hide their orientation or risk their jobs or sometimes their lives. When Christianity was the only acceptable American expression of faith in God. When Arabs were depicted as aggressive, evil, and backward. When Jews were not able to buy a home in some of our New Hampshire communities.

It is imperative to expose and reject all of these duplicitous efforts to deceive and divide Americans. The alternative is to focus on issues instead of people. When workers loose their jobs we all loose. When the wealthy get richer, the rest of us struggle. When injustice exists none of us are free. We will be a greater America when our unity as human beings guides our dependence upon one another and responsibility to one another, no matter who we are or from where we come. Focusing together on the issues of wages, health care, pensions, infrastructure, international relationships, and the environment can nurture the skills and wisdom inherent in humanity.   Now that, Hobson, is a real choice.

Christmas Greetings

Minds Crossing, Concord, NH                                                                    Christmas 2016

 

“Say to the anxious, ‘Be strong! Fear not! Your God comes to save you…’ for water will spring up in the wilderness and torrents flow in the desert… it will be called the Way of Holiness… it will become a pilgrim’s way.” (Isaiah 35: 4)

 

There is a spring flowing in the wilderness of Palestine. For centuries it has provided water for the village of Taybeh, known in biblical times as Ephraim. Three years ago Nadim Khoury started a brewery that depends upon water from the spring.

Faye and I visited Taybeh last April during a two-week traveling seminar, Faith in the Face of Empire.  We learned that Taybeh receives its spring water only three days a week. It is metered and administered by the occupying Israeli military. Most of the water is diverted to a nearby recently constructed illegal Israeli settlement.

Hearing their story filled me with anxiety. A brewery requires a “torrent” of water to succeed, which their spring is restricted from supplying. However, these Christians, powerless under Israeli occupation, remain strong in their belief that the road to the Taybeh Brewery will “become a pilgrim’s way.” How confusing is that!

It was confusing to return home to Minds Crossing where many fear that the waters of civility are being rationed or shut off altogether by the election rhetoric and plans for the future administration. We thirst for peace with justice in a world of never ending war. We thirst for peace with justice in a time threatening to roll back gains for the rights of women, GLBTQ people, people of color, and immigrants. However, every time we turn on a water faucet for a drink of water, to take a shower, or to drip irrigate our tiny vegetable garden we remember Taybeh: their trust in the vision of Isaiah.

This Christmas time, we join with Nadim and the people of Taybeh to hope in the impossible: “water will spring up in the wilderness and torrents flow in the desert… it will be called the Way of Holiness… it will become a pilgrim’s way” (Isaiah 35: 4).

In our tumultuous world may we all discover the “pilgrim way.”

A blessed Christmas and a hope-filled New Year,

John and Faye Buttrick

 

 

U.S. / Mexico border issues

The Barrier Wall                                                                               December 18, 2016

On the Saturday after the elections, my wife and I and one of our daughters and her husband traveled from San Diego to Border Field State Park in the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve. It was a sunny warm day for the two-mile walk through the saltwater low lands. The sweet scent of flowers was in the air. The songs of marshland birds and the flash of gull’s wings competed for our attention. Ahead and on our left we could see the distant houses and new construction on the hillside in Tijuana, Mexico. In the foreground was a high concrete wall barrier separating the United States from Mexico. Our destination was Friendship Park at the shore of the Pacific Ocean. Along the way we joined a young Mexican woman and her father. She is a U.S. citizen. He has a window washing business in San Marcos, CA. They were making the journey to the Park to meet his mother and family members who are not allowed to enter the United States. The father and daughter are reluctant to go into Mexico. They fear they would not be allowed to return to their U.S. home.

Friendship Park is a paved strip of land about 50 feet wide between two high steel fences traversing the border west of Tijuana and extending 100 yards beyond the surf into the Pacific Ocean. Down the middle is a road used exclusively by the U.S. Border Patrol vehicles. While we waited for the gate to open into this barren strip of land we could look beyond the two fences to see groups of people strolling on the beach on the Mexican side.

The gate into Friendship Park only opens on Saturday and Sunday from 10am until 2pm. The sign beside the gate explains that only 20 people at a time can be in the area between the fences. On the other side of this narrow strip people wait behind the second fence to meet their friends and relatives from the U.S.

When the gate was opened, father and daughter rushed across the narrow Friendship Park to greet his mother and other family members standing beyond the second fence. They spoke excitedly through the fence. The father had not seen his mother in fourteen years. They pressed their hands against the fence: son and mother and two separated sisters. There was no touching. Woven through the steel frame of the fence is a heavy wire mesh preventing contact and the passing of any items to one another.

There were fewer than twenty people waiting at the gate this day so we also entered the park between the two fences.   We watched two parents introduce their infant child to family and friends on the Mexican side. One U.S. Border Patrol official, standing next to his vehicle, was controlling the gate and watching the people gathered at the far fence. I learned that he was also a public relations officer for the Border Patrol.   He was originally from Maine but when he joined the Border Patrol he was assigned to the border with Mexico. When I asked him why he chose to join the Border Patrol he replied, “I want to serve my country.” However he also explained that work in Maine was scarce and he needed a job.

During our ½ hour conversation I asked, “What is the discussion among your colleagues about the presidential transition?”

He responded, “We don’t think a wall will be built along the whole border. However, we do anticipate that there will be more money for the hiring of more personnel.”“What is it like to watch these people visiting with the fence between them?”

“We opened this area (Friendship Park) to give them the opportunity to meet,” he justifies.

I explained that I had talked with a Texan who lived on the border and missed the days when there was free movement across the border to visit, shop, work, and for entertainment.

“I’m too young to remember those days but I’ve heard the stories,” he responded. “I agree it is the way relationships should be between the people of our two countries. But today, after 9/11, it is important to restrict movement across the border.”

“Doesn’t dividing families and restricting interaction among people of our two countries contribute to more tension, misunderstanding, and fear,” I asked?

“It does, but you should know that over 50% of border patrol personnel along this section of the border are of Mexican descent,” suggesting that their presence makes the situation acceptable.

I also learned that once or twice a year there is a time designated for people from each side of the border to stand in the opening of an emergency door in the fence to touch each other and embrace for as long as three minutes, under the watchful eye of a border official. These meetings are organized and limited by a lottery. I commented, “It seems to me that this destroys dignity rather than communicating good will.”

“It’s the way it has to be,” he replied with an uneasy shrug.

A silent parting handshake acknowledged a mutual uneasy troubling tension.

Before we left the Park, we went over to the second fence to say “good by” to our father and daughter walking companions. They introduced us to their family from Mexico. Through the fence there could be no handshaking, just smiles and well wishes. Returning through the gate on the U.S. side, we looked down to the shore of the Pacific Ocean where the two fences enter the water. On the Mexican side there were adults and children sitting on the beach and swimming. The U.S. side was deserted except for one Border Patrol vehicle driving through the sand.

As we walked the two miles back to our car we pondered the irony in the name “Friendship Park,” a barren strip of land between two iron fences, one with a steel meshed barrier. We later learned from No More Deaths that so far this year 469 people have needed help to recover $54,134 taken from them by the Arizona Department of Corrections when they were deported. Others stranded in Nogales, Mexico have needed help to make 2150 phone calls to tell friends and family about their sudden deportation from the United States. There have been remains of 144 people found in the southern Arizona desert so far this year.

Conversation about the border between the United States and Mexico has been dominated by fear of lost jobs, economic assistance abuse, drugs, terrorism, and “the wall.” Missing is an awareness of the human condition. In the West Wing, in the halls of Congress, and in our neighborhoods we must begin to frame the discussion of border issues around human dignity, uniting families, developing friendships, and acknowledging the valuable contributions each person can make to our respective countries. Then, perhaps, the next time we visit the borderlands we will be able to shake the hands of the man’s Mexican mother and his daughter’s sister. And together we will hear the voices of the songbirds and see the gulls flying back and forth across the border.

 

J