I’ve taken to having NPR play on my computer whilst I work as music is too distracting for me at times. I rarely actually listen to the stories—I just like having some background noise—but this one caught my attention simply because I heard the name “Dagmar.” My wife’s name is relatively rare, even in Europe, so when I heard the name I started paying attention.
It turns out that the Dagmar in the story is a Swedish museum director who is helping an Afghan refugee rebuild his life. (So far every woman I’ve ever heard of named Dagmar has been kind and compassionate by nature.)
The article made me realize that many people in the world have to make difficult choices—far beyond what most Americans have to face. The college-educated Afghan refugee in the story had refused to help the Taliban, was beaten, left for dead, had to leave his wife and infant behind to flee the country, and is now learning a new language and a new trade, hoping to find a way to get his wife and baby out of Afghanistan.
I can’t imagine the desperation, terror, and confusion the refugee faced. It makes me sad that the very people who robbed him of his home, family, business, and education have also robbed him of the chance to rebuild a life here in America. The United States once prided itself on accepting immigrants and refugees, calling itself “the melting pot.” We realized that our strength relied upon our diversity, that everyone deserves an honest chance to prove themselves, to rebuild their lives. Tolerance and compassion were values we held dear, as we knew that our fathers and grandfathers came here needing to find that tolerance and compassion and had found it.
But now the current political climate in the US precludes such ideals and values. We no longer welcome refugees and immigrants, and have traded compassion for fear, tolerance for mistrust. We are now willing to hate the oppressed because at first glance they look too much like the oppressors. We are willing to turn our backs on those who need our help most because our political leaders have turned fear into an industry. We’re afraid that if we share our plate with the poor we may not have enough food for ourselves, we’re afraid that if we help the disabled we might not have enough money to care for our own, we’re afraid that if we welcome the stranger he may harm us — so we shun the poor, turn our backs on the disabled, and close our door to the stranger and live in isolated fear, counting our precious pennies, eager to judge and to hate.
And that makes me sad.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”