Tag Archive | imigrants

Your Perspective?

Floey at wetland
Yesterday morning my dog Floey and I went for a long walk and a long talk. It was already a hot day, but I figured if we walked on country roads rather than sidewalks, we might catch a little breeze. I was right. As soon as we turned off Water Street onto Highland Drive the setting was just right. The birds were singing, the frogs were croaking, and the red-winged blackbird that greets us most mornings landed on the tallest cattail and began her usual chatter. We stopped for a moment to feel the breeze and listen to the bird songs, and then continued ambling south on Highland.

Red-winged Blackbird on cattailFloey looked up at me and said, “Hey, Mom, there’s something I want to talk about. Something serious.”

“Okay,” I replied. “What’s on your mind?”

“You were really mad at me last night, weren’t you. You yelled at me twice.”

“I guess I did, Floey. I’m sorry, but I had reasons to be angry and to speak harshly to you. The first time was when Peggy and Buddy came over for a visit. You really pounced on Buddy. You could have hurt him. He’s smaller than you, older than you, and has a bad back.”

“I know, Mom. But I was so excited to see him and I wanted to play. I really like Buddy. He’s the best little white dog I know. I would never hurt him.”

“You wouldn’t hurt him intentionally, but sometimes, if you’re not careful, it can happen. Like the second time I yelled at you, after Buddy and Peggy were gone, and we went out for a little walk before going to bed. You really hurt me, Floey.”

“No, I didn’t. I wasn’t even near you. You just started to yell at me. I have no idea why.”

“Did you forget what you did as we went out the door? You charged after a rabbit. I wasn’t even through the door yet. You jerked on your leash so hard that my hand banged into the door frame. The back of my hand and my first finger are still swollen and have turned black and blue. As soon as we got back in the house I put an ice pack on it for half an hour. We’re lucky none of the little bones in my hand and fingers were broken.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mom. I had no idea you were hurt. I was just trying to protect you from that big rabbit that was close to jumping onto the front porch. Fortunately I was able to chase him away. I’m sorry you were hurt in the process. Are you still mad at me? I would never try to hurt you.”

“No, Floey, I’m not still mad at you. But I think it’s good you wanted to talk with me about this. Obviously, we have different perspectives on what happened last night. I now see, from your perspective, you were warmly welcoming your good friend Buddy to our house and inviting him to play with you – and I yelled at you. Then you chased away a rabbit to protect me from him – and I yelled at you again.”

Buddy“That’s right, Mom,” Floey replied. “And from your perspective, you were trying to protect Buddy from getting hurt, so you yelled at me, and later, I accidentally hurt your hand when I chased away that rabbit, and you yelled at me again. I’m sorry. But now I understand.”

“You know, Floey, perspective is a funny thing. We can always see everything that happens to us from our own perspective, but often that’s not the whole picture. We need to try to understand other perspectives as much as we can.”

“That’s for sure. If we hadn’t had this little talk, I still wouldn’t understand why you yelled at me last night. Now I know, and my feelings aren’t hurt any more.”

“Good, Floey. While we’re talking about perspective, let me tell you about an email I received a couple days ago. It was about my last blog post, What Can I do? Remember, it’s the one where I talked about children being taken away from their parents at the US/Mexico border.”

51smFhUIbL._SX322_BO1204203200_“I remember it,” Floey said. “It’s the one where you talked about Ellen Finn’s book, Emotional Witness. That book was scary. I’m sure glad we don’t have to live in Honduras where there’s so much violence.”

“The email I received was from Tim, the husband of an old friend of mine from our Chicago days. He was pretty upset with me about writing that blog post.”

“Why was he upset, Mom? It was sad to read about all the violence in Central America, but you shared some good ideas about how we individually can support at least one or two children to be sure they have food, clothing, education, and so on. Was Tim really mad at you for writing about this?”

“Yes, I think he was, Floey. You see, he’s a world traveler and avid bicyclist. He’s been to Honduras several times. A few years ago he took a solo bicycle trip from Mexico City to Costa Rica. During that trip he spent several weeks in Copan, Honduras. In his 4-page email to me,  Tim wrote:

The reasons for writing this are to give another opinion about Copan. The town is struggling and needs more tourism. Would a foreigner who is contemplating a first visit to Central America consider Honduras or Copan after reading Ellen’s book or your blog post? Highly unlikely…. During my 2015 solo bicycle tour through Honduras, en route from Mexico City to Costa Rica, I neither experienced nor witnessed any violence. I had expected to at least hear gunshots, but did not. 

“From Tim’s perspective, Ellen’s book and my blog post may actually hurt the people of Honduras by discouraging tourism rather than helping anyone.”

IMG_2265Floey looked up at me and said, “I think I can see his point, Mom. I know I wouldn’t want to travel to Honduras. I’d be afraid of getting shot.”

“I don’t think I’d like to go there for a vacation, either. But remember our friends Liz and James go to Copan almost every year to visit the kids they support. They love the trip. They have found safe places to stay and really enjoy their visits. From their perspective as tourists, they feel safe.”

“Hey, Mom. There’s that word PERSPECTIVE again. Ellen’s perspective of life in Honduras is quite different from Tim’s.” 

“You’re right, Floey. I’m sure the people living in small villages in the mountains of Honduras have a different perspective on life in Honduras than wealthier people living in the larger cities and more prosperous suburbs, or from tourists traveling through the country. Another very important part of the whole picture is the perspective of Honduran immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. Many of them see the violence in their homeland as unbearable.”

“Life sure is complicated, isn’t it, Mom.”

“This conversation has taken us a long way from our different perspectives on why I yelled at you last night.”

LADxC%rGSY+gK%%cnDLrPg“It sure has. I’m glad we talked about perspectives. I learned that one perspective rarely provides the whole picture. I need to remember to try to see other perspectives as well as my own if I really want to understand what’s happening.”

“That’s right, Floey. Maybe when we get home from this long walk and long talk, I’ll bring up Tim’s blog about his bicycle tour of Central America, to try to see more of his perspective on this part of the world. I took a peek at it yesterday, and he includes lots of beautiful pictures along with his narrative.” 

https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=1mr&doc_id=15328&v=qE

“Great! That will be fun to see, especially with lots of pictures.”

We continued on our walk in silence for a while. Then Floey added, “Hey, Mom, do you think the need to understand different perspectives applies to all our political differences, too? Like, lots of people hate Trump and all his policies. Other people love him and everything he does. I know people on both sides. Can a complete understanding of any issue ever come about by really trying to understand both sides?”

“I don’t know, Floey. But the first step is to be willing to listen to the other side. I don’t think most people are even near the first step yet. And I don’t know how to get there.”

“I know!” Floey said excitedly and grinned at me. “Everyone needs long walks and long talks, just like this!”

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Let Me Introduce My Neighbors to You

Marian and kittenWhen I was a little girl growing up on a Wisconsin farm, I thought of four families as being our neighbors: the farmers across the road just west of us – the Henry Henderson family; the farmers who lived on the farm immediately south of us – The Mulcaheys; the farmers just east of us – the Scotts; and Ruth and Merrill Kenseth, a brother and sister who were double cousins of my mom (their moms were sisters and their dads were brothers) – and they lived on the farm across the road north of us. I didn’t really know any of the neighbors very well, except the cousins. Sometimes, on a nice summer evening, I would walk over to the Kenseth farm to play with their barn cats while Merrill was milking the cows, especially when there was a brand new litter of kittens to play with.

I think the main reason I didn’t know the other neighbors very well is that they didn’t go to the same church as we did, and we primarily socialized with the people within our own church. Occasionally, Danny and I would walk down to the Mulcaheys to play with Michael and Margaret, the two kids in their family who were about our ages, but they were Catholics, so we were discouraged from playing with them too much. We grew up thinking of Catholics almost like a different tribe. They didn’t really believe in God quite like we did. They believed in Mary and the pope and saints and who knows what all… We were Methodists and we knew Jesus Christ as our personal savior. Back then we were taught to avoid people who were different from us, even if they were neighbors.

When I went away to college, obviously I had new neighbors. Living in a dorm, I had roommates, who essentially became my on-campus family. My new neighbors were the young women who lived in the rooms adjacent to and across the hall from us. Since I went to a small Christian college, these neighbors were all members of the same “tribe” and we all became friends.

Williston Hall - cropped - adj

My dorm at Wheaton College

After college I moved to a small town in Connecticut where I was an English teacher. I rented an apartment in a relatively new apartment complex of about 20 units. I had two kinds of neighbors in the apartment complex – relatively poor families who couldn’t afford to buy a house, and young teachers who were new to the community. Basically, we became two tribes. I had very little contact with the other tribe.

4429-4433 N California

Our Chicago two-flat. Sidewalks separate us from our neighbors.

After a couple years in Connecticut I moved back to the Midwest, met Mim, and the two of us lived in Chicago together for 20 years. While we lived in Chicago, at first our concept of neighbor was not very different from what my concept of neighbor had been when I was a little girl on the farm. The houses next to us on all four sides were our neighbors, and to varying degrees, we became friends. Further down the block in any direction we didn’t even know the people, with a few rare exceptions – like when we got our first puppy, we got to know the other families on the block who had dogs.

Gradually, after living in Chicago several years, we began to think of the term “neighbor” in a little broader sense. We thought of neighborhoods, and neighboring neighborhoods. For a few years we attended LaSalle Street Church, located between Sandburg Village – an upscale high-rise residential development and Cabrini Green – the most notorious, gang-infested housing project in Chicago. The pastors at LaSalle prompted us to re-think how we should love and care for our neighbors, and just who our neighbors really are.

Back in Cambridge, after 20 years in Chicago, my concept of neighbor continued to evolve. I still thought of my neighbors as the people whose homes (or farms) were adjacent to ours. But then we subdivided the farm. Most of the acreage became new housing – a small apartment complex (The Hamptons), a condominium development (Stone Meadows, where Mim and I now live), and a couple residential subdivisions (Winterberry and Summer Prairie). Would all these new housing units, over 100, shelter a whole new community of neighbors for us? Mim and I tried to start out being neighborly by bringing homemade cookies or bread as a welcome gift to each new neighbor as they moved into their home. We kept that up for about the first half-dozen or so neighbors, then we stopped. I guess I need to think a little harder about just who my neighbor is, and how I should treat them…

Stone Meadows

This is where we live now. Our condo is on the right.

So why am I thinking so much about neighbors today?

Sheriff Mahoney

Sheriff Mahoney

A week and a half ago I went to the annual meeting of the Jail Ministry. Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney was a special guest at this meeting, and he gave a short talk about the needs of inmates. Sheriff Mahoney said that his biggest hope is that the people of Dane County would stop thinking of jail inmates as violent criminals getting exactly what they deserve by being incarcerated, but rather think of jail inmates as their neighbors. He said that 80% of the inmates are in jail for crimes related to their addiction to drugs or alcohol. They need healing, not punishment. Mahoney said that in his 35 years of law enforcement experience, he has not known even one inmate that was rehabilitated just by being kept in a cage for a while. For all inmates who have been successfully rehabilitated, they succeeded because they were in an environment that provided the resources that enabled them to heal. The chaplains and volunteers of the Jail Ministry are an important part of those resources – people who care, who listen, and who try to help the healing process.

Mahoney closed his remarks by coming back to his biggest hope – that we all start thinking of inmates as our neighbors.

The dictionary defines neighbor in geographic terms – “a person living near another.” [www.merriam-webster.com] But the Bible broadens the definition of neighbor significantly, as this New Testament incident illustrates.

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

Good Samaritan sketchJesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” [Luke 10:25-37 The Message]

Dulce Maria Family-cropped

Dulce Maria is the little girl on the left.

According to Jesus, it’s very important for me to love my neighbor, almost as important as it is for me to love God. In order for me to love my neighbor, I need to understand who my neighbor is, and Jesus makes it pretty clear that it’s not just the people living in the houses adjacent to my house. I think Jesus would agree with Sheriff Mahoney, that the inmates of the Dane County Jail are my neighbors. But that’s not all. Immigrants from Mexico and the Near East and actually all over the world are my neighbors, too. Dulce Maria, the little girl in Honduras that Mim and I sponsor, is our neighbor. Homeless people in Cambridge and Madison are our neighbors. Anyone who needs someone to listen and care and help. Anyone who needs to see God’s love in action in their life. These are my neighbors.

I guess I have more neighbors than I thought.