Labour Day is not just a holiday for Canadians.
Despite being on this side of the border this September 7, I too am enjoying a day off like my working counterparts northbound.
After a good sleep-in this morning, I slowly began waking up with an internet surf untethered from a time limit.
As I did so, I slowly began delving into ideas written by other people.
Many insights I came across were Facebook formalities. Others were quirky and made me laugh out loud. Some I read a couple of times over. (It’s always so strange to me how much thinking can be done internally.)
Amidst this mental morning exercise, heaviness emerged.
After reading a refreshing article in the New York Times about the importance of quality time, my scrolling brought me to an article written by Michael Ignatieff, established author and former Liberal leader of Canada, entitled ‘The Refugee Crisis isn’t a ‘European Problem.”
You likely know it too:
Right now – as I’m typing to you – there is a crisis happening overseas.
As Mr. Ignatieff writes, “those of us outside Europe are watching the unbelievable images of the Keleti train station in Budapest, the corpse of a toddler washed up on a Turkish beach, the desperate Syrian families chancing their lives on the night trip to the Greek islands.”
Though I have indeed been seeing these pictures, as well as the daily flashing headlines and immediate news items surrounding this issue, this morning was the first time that I spent a focussed amount of energy going below their surface to get a greater grasp of the reality underneath – an activity long overdue.
…an activity which lead me to more pictures.
Bodies cramped together, waiting in limbo.
“Surely you are thirsty?” I posed inside my head to those people in the picture, bewildered that thirst was likely the very least of their worries at that moment.
Narratives started to emerge through this colourful mess of individuals, detailing why and how some of them had left home.
I watched videos of people – literally hundreds of them – clamouring to get on a train out of Budapest with arguably little knowledge of what would be at the other end. Just the hope of something safer.
The goosebumps on my arms as I read the captions; as I heard the wordless echoes of peoples’ voices.
Fire began to rise in me.
Back in May of this year, I took a 3-week trip to Europe after the end of my latest work contract at the CBC.
Hungary was my second destination for a week-long visit with my lovely friend Robin. She was studying documentary filmmaking in Budapest at the time.
A couple of days in, the two of us traveled to a deer farm three hours south of the city to do some shooting for her film.
The train departed from Keleti station.
I remember that day quite clearly.
It was a sunny weekday morning when we walked into the airy, arena-type space of the terminal. We didn’t have to wait long before boarding the train set for our destination.
When I found my reserved seat, I can remember looking out the window as I waited for it to start moving. The platform was quite empty at that hour. A few tourists like me wandering by, a few transit employees walking up and down checking the odd ticket. Even inside the car, it was almost silent.
The ride itself was breezy and calming.
When I listen to ‘Foolish’ by Alpine and ‘The Sea’ by Mø – two songs on my playlist of choice for the trip – I’m immediately transported back to that scene: the hum and feel of moving wheels below me while a sort of sultry heat came through the window, balanced by a perfect stream of wind.
I imagine it’s quite a different story for the thousands of people traveling from that same transit hub this past weekend.
As I’ve been processing what I’ve absorbed today, my mind has taken me to many places – not so much to conclusions, but through a maze of open-ended, half-baked ideas that I felt in my heart I needed to try to cement.
The first thought –
I am absolutely baffled that I’ve stood exactly where those people have been photographed. It’s so mind-boggling to remember such a scene of serenity inside Keleti station a mere four months ago and compare it to the unvarnished unrest that has been dominating that space this past weekend.
Another idea sparked from that reality –
Aside from the tangible disarray and desperation depicted above, perhaps that photo is a literal illustration of the anxiety harnessing the countries looking at it.
In his piece, Ignatieff says this of President Obama, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and President Dilma Rousseff:
“Resettling refugees, they fear, will trigger an even greater exodus, and they don’t know how their teams could handle the chaos that would result.”
This fear, surely existing even before we saw the picture of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beach, is such a striking perception to me.
That idea that if we let more people into our countries, the result will be even MORE people coming into our countries, and how that frightens us…
That established idea that the human tsunami following the decision to say “yes” to thousands that have been displaced would be a natural disaster in itself.
It’s so crazy to think that human nature makes us so afraid of the upheaval of order, that we choose order over death. We will tolerate tragedy at the distant it’s at, as long as that means structure is kept within the borders we control.
Yet it’s bewildering to think that the ‘structure’ we are afraid of uprooting is manmade.
Strangely, I have found myself at various chapters of my thought process today actually empathizing with the leaders in charge of upholding that structure.
As my friend Karen pointed out in this regard, “It’s so easy to criticize when you don’t have to stand behind everyone’s well-being.”
“And when you are the leader of one set of lives, it’s like you’re mandated to put them first, even when there is already peace,” I thought back to her.
I keep picturing myself as Stephen Harper, tasked with maintaining that peace in Canada. How does one do that, while also responding to a humanitarian crisis? When can order be put aside for a moment, in order to help someone escape deathly circumstances?
“It legitimately turns into a balance scale of human lives.”
As I’ve been riding this mental roller coaster, something else that keeps replaying in my mind is this line from a biblical verse –
“God is my refuge.”
According to my Google search, ‘refuge’ means ‘a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble’ or ‘something providing shelter.’
One more ‘e’ however, and you’ve got the buzzword of international current affairs:
‘A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.’
Which brings me to this statement:
“God is my refugee.”
I’m truthfully not sure exactly how this fits into everything or where exactly this logic is going, but as I continue to piece my thoughts together, maybe one truth that emerges is that God is truly just as much the refugee as He is the refuge.
‘Ok, sure Kimberly,’ I said to myself as I first came to this conclusion. ‘Where is the hope in that, if the one who is providing safety and shelter from danger is also the one who needs it?’
But I think this is exactly it.
By saying ‘God is our refugee,’ we paint a picture of God as each person in the photograph above. It’s a statement that proves God is not an entity withheld on this side of the crisis, but as a being actually ingrained into the desperation.
Just as He is in us, so too is God IN the people who are crying out for our attention and help.
There is an almost sickening need for tragedy to re-orient ourselves into a position that allows us to give both. It’s like we have to be confronted with death before we fight for life.
Mr. Ignatieff finishes his own piece like so:
“If compassion won’t do it, maybe prudence and fear might. God help us if these Syrians do not forgive us our indifference.”
If we can immediately recognize the shared divinity of humanness that already exists between us and the million of Syrians seeking refuge, perhaps we can skip that step of waiting to be reminded of our own mortality before we’re prompted into decision-making or action.
These thoughts are big.
This situation is fiercely alive.
I continue to think.