Listen young friend, I am saying this as you lie asleep, alone in your temporary housing – a metal cage. I have watched you from afar. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat with my own family, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guilty, I came to think of you.
There are things which I am thinking, my dear asylum seeker; I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were entering our country because you dared to seek the freedoms I enjoy. I took you to task for seeking a better life. I called out angrily when you protested the break up of your family.
At your seeking safety I found fault, too. ‘You are poor. You will only add more mouths to feed. You do not have a job, and will only add debt to my country.’ As you crossed the border, you turned and raised your hands and called, "Thank you for letting my family seek asylum, safety and liberty in your country," I frowned, and said in reply, "You must first be detained indefinitely, before you are given due process."
Then it began all over again late this afternoon. As I came near, you were down on your knees, pleading for your freedom. Your children were separated from you. I humiliated you before the world by marching you into a small metal cage. “Keeping you is expensive, and if you had to pay for it, you wouldn’t be so bold!” Imagine that, from a fellow human.
Do you remember later, when I said you were an animal, how you stared timidly, with a hurt look in your eyes? I finally came over, impatient at the disruption; you hesitated to say anything. "I don’t care, do you?" I snapped.
You said nothing, but fell in one tempestuous plunge; your children pleading with the guard with all the love blooming in their hearts, which even neglect could not wither. Then you were gone, back into your enclosure.
Well, friend, it was shortly afterwards that my resentment slipped from my mind and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, or reprimanding; this was my reward to you for being a survivor. It was not that I did not love my fellow humans: it was that I expected too much of you. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years in this country.
There is so much that was good, fine and true in your character. The heart of yours
was as big as the dawn itself over the hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in to America expecting love and liberty. Nothing else mattered tonight. Friend, I have come to your bedside in the darkness, I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is a feeble atonement; I know that you would not understand these things which I have
told you in the waking hours. Tomorrow I will be a real friend! I will chum with you, suffer
when you suffer and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when intolerant words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: "She is an asylum seeker." I am afraid I have visualized you as a criminal. Yet as I see you now, friend, crumpled and weary in your cage. I see that you are still a victim. Yesterday you were in harms way, struggling against gangs, drugs and violence. I have asked too much, too much!
Instead of condemning and criticizing others, perhaps we it would be better to try to understand them, to try to figure out why they do what they do. That's a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness, rather than contempt.
Modified from Father Forgets, by W. Livingston Larned 1927