It’s the 1960s. Maybe 1963, on a Sunday morning. My family and I are coming home from Mass. We’ll have breakfast. Then Daddy will drive back to church to sing in the eleven o’clock choir.
We approach the crest of the little hill on Iron Mountain Road, and something goes terribly wrong. We’re veering across the line into the oncoming lane.
From the back seat I see my father go rigid. I hear an eerie uncontrollable groan.
Mother scooches across the seat and tries to move his foot off the pedal. Tries to grip the wheel.
I see the ashen face and blank stare of a man in seizure.
Mother overpowers his grip, and steers us to a stop in front of a house, a house we’ve passed hundreds of times, a house between here and there.
Three of us tumble and push over one another to get out of the back seat. I’m glad to be out, because what’s happening to my Daddy right now scares me, and breaks my heart. We also need to find help.
I race up the steps and pound on the front door. “Help us! Help us, please!” Pound pound. “It’s an emergency.”
No sound. I look back. The car doors are open. Mother has laid Daddy across the front seat.
Pound pound. “Please help us! We need an ambulance! Please!”
Finally the door opens a crack. A woman sizes us up. Maybe our distress scares her. Maybe she thinks we’re just acting, ready to barge in and rob her.
Reluctantly, I sense, she calls for an ambulance while we wait outside.
I notice as we turn to go down the steps that she does not come out to see if there is anything, anything, she can do.
I notice how alone we are, my family and me, alongside the road, in the throes of trauma on this ordinary Sunday morning.
I think about these things.
I think about these things today as I listen to the news. Different tragedy, same distant response.
About eighty Assyrian and Armenian religious minority Christians are stuck in Vienna, a reporter says, their applications for U.S. asylum denied. But they cannot remain in Austria.
These refugees hang in a limbo of sorts, hoping for home, somewhere. A year they’ve been pounding, waiting while they “undergo investigation.”
Human anguish is a language which bears its own moral eloquence, speaks its own urgent truth. Human anguish, eventually, visits us all.
And it demands better than to be put on hold because we might be inconvenienced by the needs of the dispossessed. They ask too much. What if their plight is not all that crucial? What if they just want to get their foot in the door of opportunity? We are not responsible for their situation, the nations say. We didn’t ask for their neediness.
And neither did they.
Who are these strangers, anyway?
The anguished ones—who could be any of us by tomorrow morning—pound in desperation, yes, and in hope that the door will be opened, that help will arrive, that compassion will flow through the pipeline of human accommodation and genuine care for the stranger.
Sadly, care for strangers too often demands proof that I should get involved in your mess, that I should get mixed up in your need.
Who are you, anyway? Convince me that I should be inconvenienced by your pathetic neediness.
We call this attitude “othering.” It is the tragic opposite of communio, the sacred and intimate communion of Holy Trinity; it’s the tragic opposite of sharing in the divine banquet of Eucharist with God-who-accompanies.
Whether it’s children knocking wildly at your door on a Sunday morning, or families exhausted from religious persecution, forced exodus, tenacious hope, and eventual denial of a fresh start in life in a foreign land, the invitation to accompany, as God accompanies, is everywhere.
(c) Mary Sharon Moore, 2018. All Rights Reserved.
Mary Sharon Moore writes and speaks nationwide on
the nature of God’s calling in our times.