Survivors’ Guilt

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” Emma Lazarus

Watching the Syrians and other who are fleeing violence, I can only wonder why the United States is not more welcoming. We are quick to shake our heads and purse our lips when discussing the European Union’s inability to come up with quotas based on the size of the country and their economy, but what about us? We have lots of space and our economy is much better than some.

Given our resources, I hardly think that the estimated 1,500 refugees we have accepted so far is anything to brag about. As for next year, I have read that we will accept between 5,000 and 8,000 more refugees. Are any of the potential presidential candidates speaking out on the refugee crisis? I think not. The Statue of Liberty must be shaking her head.

Is there a chance that among the refugees we may  inadvertently welcome some disaffected jihadists? Probably. However, ignoring the humanitarian crisis may fuel home-grown jihadists as well.

I was quite taken with an opinion piece published in this past Sunday’s New York Times written by Bill Chappell, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. Chappell’s piece is titled “The Refugee Crisis Isn’t a ‘European Problem.” You can read it for yourself at <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/06/opinion/sunday/therefugeecrisis.com&gt;.  In short, Chappell asked some very good questions. My favorite question was, “If we’ve been arming Syrian rebels, shouldn’t we also be helping people trying to get out of their way?”

The view from my balcony. The migrants wait for water.

The view from my balcony. The migrants wait for water.

A year ago I had a first-person encounter with boat people. I was at a dive resort in the Caribbean, and while there, 24 Cubans (crowded in a homemade boat bound for Miami) came within sight of our dock. For fear of arrest, they did not disembark; however, they called out for water, food, and medicine. My first response was, “What were they thinking!!” What circumstances would lead me to risking my life in such a small boat on the high seas?

Packed to the gills.

Packed to the gills.

I was hesitant to go down to the dock and take  photos. How could I, one of the “haves,” capitalize on the misfortune of “have-nots”? I kept my distance: I stood on the balcony off our room and took photos from afar. I have given a lot of thought to my discomfiture. What was the difference between taking a close-up photo from the dock and taking a photo from my balcony?

No frills.

No frills.

I took the above photo when local officials turned a blind-eye and allowed the boat people to sit on the dock and ‘stretch their legs’ while resort guests and personnel ferried supplies to the boat.

I think some of my discomfort is what I’ll call ‘survivors’ guilt.’ Living the sweet life, I feel guilty when it comes to dealing with the disposed. Not that I haven’t worked hard, but I came to life with advantages that included adequate food, warm housing, caring parents, and education. I have been very lucky. I have survived, and with that survival comes guilt. Although the Cubans were ‘economic migrants’ and not fleeing the ravages of war, they were desperate enough to risk their lives for what they hoped would be a better life. I can’t imagine circumstances that would lead to me to risking my life.

Even the least lucky American is luckier than a refugee in flight. Avoiding the issue… dismissing the refugee crisis as Europe’s problem, is not in Europe’s best interest nor is it in ours. The world is smaller every day. We must engage and pull our oar or suffer the consequences. Shame on those who are turning a blind eye.

About timeout2

I have lived 100 lives. I write essays, short stories, poetry, grocery lists and notes to myself. If I am ever lost, look for a paper trail, but be careful not to trip over any books that lie scattered here and there. I am a reader. I am a reader in awe of writers. When I don't live in Westcliffe, Colorado, I live in London where I am a long-time member of Word-for-Word - Crouch End.
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8 Responses to Survivors’ Guilt

  1. James says:

    One of the strongest threads in the Judeo-Christian fabric has been welcoming the stranger. My own denomination’s LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services) for example, has been dedicated to resettlement of refugees in American cities for decades. With shrinking denominational membership, and the rising popularity of the anti-religious however, I’m afraid the culture is becoming increasingly callous. At least LIRS had provided a channel for the kind of compassion you’re pointing to. The Roman church’s ‘preferential option for the poor’ is being resuscitated by Francis. Buying an island for refugees off the coast in Europe is not the answer. Building bridges is.

    • timeout2 says:

      Thank you for writing, James. Yes, I agree that we are becoming more callous and more removed from our fellowman. I guess we have always been fearful of “the others.” But it seems that we are increasingly fearful. Mark and I watched THE ROAD again last week. We had read Carmac McCarthy’s book and seen the movie years ago and liked both, but given the state of the world (to say nothing of the state of our very own Congress) we found watching the DVD a second time even more compelling. The bond between father and son in the midst of a nuclear winter was so hopeful. Hope is the last frontier.

      As for Pope Francis… what a breath of fresh air! Aside from church politics, he exudes love and generosity of spirit. I love that man and I wouldn’t be surprised if under his leadership membership in the Catholic church swells and other denominations follow. Best wishes. Doris

  2. Brent Bruser says:

    Yes, we must all help at the oar. Thank you Doris.

    • timeout2 says:

      Like Bar, I am not sure what constitutes pulling on the oar. At the very least, our aspiring political candidates should be willing to take their eyes off the polls long enough to join the discussion.

  3. Hi Doris,
    We just left the Upper Peninsula of MI and are working our way to Colorado. It would be great to come to Westcliffe and see you and Mark! There is a wedding at Piney Lake near Vail on the 19th that we will be attending and then we will be coming to the Springs area Sept. 22,23 and 24. We’d love to drive up to Westcliffe for a day if that fits with your schedule. Can’t seem to find your email.

    Hope we will see you.
    Sharon and Jon

    • timeout2 says:

      Dear Jon and Sharon, How exciting! We would love to see you. Mark and I are working on Laura and Sarah’s house in Denver. I am away from my calendar, but I am pretty sure that we will be home during that period. My email is ddembosky@yahoo.com. The Westcliffe number is 719-783-2697 and my cell 719-253-2530. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  4. Nicole says:

    Unfortunately, while I wholeheartedly agree that the Bible proclaims a beautiful and passionate call to welcome the stranger, my experience right now is that the only active and compassionate conversations I am having about this issue are with my “secular” friends. I spend a lot of time right at the heart of my Bible-believing church, and no one there is talking about it.

    Sadly, Christian faith is no guarantee of compassion. But neither does it equate to closed-mindedness (as many faith-based outreaches like LIRS prove!). Being human means we are susceptible to averting our eyes. So I am grateful for anyone, religious or otherwise, who is willing to not turn away.

    In that vein, Doris, I think your photos are a bit like James Nachtway, a war photographer, who goes as a witness for the rest of us, though it seems an impossible way to work for peace:

  5. timeout2 says:

    Dear Nicole, Thank you for your always insightful comments and also the link to James Nactway’s video. His voice, his photographs, and his words go right to the core. He is so articulate. I fall at his feet. As if ‘survivor guilt’ is not enough, listening to Nactway’s take on the value of photography, I now feel guilty that I did not walk onto the dock, talk to the migrants, take their pictures and tell their story. Shame on me.

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