“When Did We See You?” : Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
My mother is in the hospital and has been for this last week. She’s 91 and fell in her home after passing out. I discovered her crumpled on the floor when she did not answer the phone for one of our regular daily phone calls. When I found her, I called 911 and watched as the paramedics placed her in the ambulance.
Things are still precarious.
I accompanied her to the hospital and stayed with her through the night until she was transferred from the Emergency Room to a specialized geriatric unit. I was standing at the nurses’ station when I recognized the face of a doctor as he passed by. I had met him and his family several times in other circumstances. He was getting ready to go home after a ten hour shift. When he learned that my mother was in his unit, he immediately changed his plans. He assigned her case to himself and his partner and began assembling a team for her care. He stayed for another three hours tending to her needs. Ever since, he has been there, doing all that can be done.
My friend, the doctor, is an immigrant from Syria as is his partner in his medical practice. My friend is a Marionite Christian. His partner in the practice is a Muslim. They both came to the United States some years ago fleeing persecution in their native land. My friend’s in-laws still live in Syria, in Aleppo. Until this last year, the in-laws came to visit every winter. This last winter, under the current visa restrictions, that stopped.
I had met the in-laws the year before and, I believe, even mentioned them in another written piece. At that time, Aleppo was being contested by opposing forces. Bombing was taking place every day. The was no electricity, no running water. The father-in-law had a doctorate in engineering and was fluent in three languages. Since his son-in-law and daughter were here in America, I asked him why he didn’t just immigrate. He said, “Since I know that my daughter and grandchildren are safe in America, I know they have a future. Aleppo is my home. My country has no future unless some of us remain to pray and work for that future. It may cost us our lives, but, for me, it is a matter of conscience.” They returned to Syria a few days later.
In the hospital, I asked my friend how his in-laws were faring. He told me that they were doing a little better. They still have no running water in their district, but they have electricity for almost three hours a day. In Aleppo, that counts as progress.
Immigration is a complex issue. Talking heads on cable stations spend hours arguing about it. Politicians fume about it from the Right and the Left. Yet, it only becomes real when we see and meet the actual people who are involved. We often cite Matthew 25 in discussing this issue, usually ending with the imperative to assist “the least of these”. Perhaps, however, we would do better to consider another verse in which the righteous say, “When did we see you…?”
Yes, there are policy issues to deal with. Yes, there is legislation to pass. For us as Christians, however, maybe the first thing that we need to do is to “see” the immigrants for the people that they are, each with their own story, each bearing the image of God. I sometimes wonder if “seeing” is the more difficult part of what Jesus was saying. Yet, “seeing” is where we need to start.
Speaking of “seeing”, by the way, I didn’t “see” the immigrant Syrian physician in the hospital and try to help him. He “saw” me… and seeing me, he saw my need. I was “the least of these” and he was the one who clothed, fed and cared for my mother at his own cost of time and effort.
As someone is fond of saying…
Make your own application.
Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD