I work in a special needs classroom where, as a team, we work with students who need a lot of care. Being responsible for student’s comfort and safety and well-being every day is a really bonding experience. The classroom starts to feel like a big family. And so, four years ago, when twin girls moved into our program, it was no different as we got to know them.
The twins were originally from Mexico, but had been living with foster parents in our school district for some time. They were very different from each other in both need and nature and we grew to adore them both equally. The smaller of the twins loved bells and certain videos on the iPad that sent her into peals of laughter. Her sister loved to dance. We called her JLo, if that gives you any indication. If there was music playing, especially something with a good beat, it was like Maurice Sendak had announced, “Let the wild rumpus begin!” She would grab anyone nearby and pull them into the dance. The girls were a great addition to our classroom and there was no doubt that they belonged.
There had been ongoing talk of the girls having to return to Mexico, which was devastating news for their foster parents, who were trying desperately to keep them in the states. As staff we were shocked. The girls were clearly thriving. They were in a stable and loving home, were thriving in school, had access to the medical care and physical therapy they needed. We had no idea where they would be placed or if they would have access to the care they needed. If they returned to Mexico it would be based on a technicality of the legal system. But to us, there was no question of where they belonged.
I have no doubt that any one of us would have done anything in our power to keep the twins in the States. We were invested in their lives. I knew the girls story, was part of it. But that got me really thinking. Thinking about how I feel about people whose story I don’t know.
It made me question what it means to belong. Is belonging a legal issue? Is it determined by paperwork and stamps? Do you belong only when you’re wanted or accepted in an environment? Is it only when someone has become invested in your story? Or is it more than that?
I’ve been thinking about the things I overhear. Or the things that secretly go through my head. The judgement calls I’ve made and the separations we all like to make. The divide between us and them. The way we use terms like those people when we decide they should speak our language if they want to live in our country. And I started to wonder about the conversations I don’t hear. The questions asked, like what must that person have been experiencing to cause them to pick up everything and move so far from home? What kind of adversity are they facing here? What were they forced to leave behind to come? Were husbands separated from wives, mothers from children? Did they leave comfort and safety or violence or poverty or corruption?
I started to wonder what would happen if we placed less emphasis on a person’s legal standing and more emphasis on their humanity. If we knew their story. What if we treated everyone we encountered as if where they were was where they belonged. Would things look different? What if we treated the man standing outside Home Depot looking for work the same as we treated the French man we just met? Would we be as accepting and embracing as my coworkers and I were of the twins from Mexico? I wonder.
I know I’m stepping on some toes here. We all have strong ideas about immigration and taxes and resources and health care and where our hard-earned dollars are going and what a person needs to be doing to fit into our beloved America. But sometimes I wonder, with all our patriotism, that we can love this country so much but treat its inhabitants so poorly. I wonder why our need to determine who belongs here allows us to to criticize and isolate and dehumanize those we feel don’t belong.
We all have belief systems that govern the way we do things. As a child I was taught the Golden Rule: treat others as you wish to be treated. An idea of reciprocity. I was also raised in the church, and while I’ve left behind much of what I was raised with I’m still moved by the words and actions of the man Jesus who always put such a strong emphasis on love. In the book of Mathew the golden rule is rephrased, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them”. Also out of Mathew, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me (meaning Jesus himself).” Interesting that he equates our actions towards others as actually being towards himself. From 1 Peter 3:8 “Live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” From Romans 12:16 “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” From John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Jesus was calling for people to love each other in the way that he loved them. If you have any experience with Jesus’ actions or teachings you’ll know that his love was a no strings attached, sacrificial, unadulterated love.
While I don’t have a lot of background in Eastern religions I know I’ve been struck repeatedly by teachings on peace and the importance on inner work. I love Karma, the idea that the sum of our actions decides our fate. That every action we make, whether positive or negative, matters both now and in the future. That, as Buddha declared, “We are the heirs of our own actions.”
I’m also a believer in the Law of Attraction, that like attracts like. That our positive attitude, actions and thoughts bring positivity into our lives just as negative living does the same. That we are actually drawing to ourselves the experiences we have based on the way we live our lives.
There are a multitude of belief systems and ways of viewing the world but I believe that with a little digging you would find at their heart the same thing. That what we do matters. That our beliefs, thoughts and actions are directly linked to the outcomes we see in our lives. The way we treat others matters.
I believe that we’ve lost sight of the Golden Rule. That we’ve forgotten what it looks like to treat others how we want to be treated. I see a disconnect in the way we’re quick to place beloved philanthropists on a pedestal but don’t behave like they do. We end our emails with a quote from Mother Theresa but fail to see that she and others like her have simply chosen to serve and love others regardless of their race, social standing or legal right to live within certain boundaries. In fact, the very term philanthropy sums it all so beautifully, “Love of humanity in the sense of caring, nourishing, developing and enhancing ‘what it is to be human’ “. What it is to be human. Have we forgotten about something so basic. Why do we get to hold ourselves to a different standard than those we claim to esteem?
I won’t even pretend to hold the power to change your political views. You have the right to your views, just as I have the right to mine. I only hope you’ll reconsider the power you hold. The power to make those in society around you feel like they belong. Or like they don’t. That you won’t forget the power of the Golden Rule or disconnect how you treat others from how you want to be treated.
The twins that I worked with and cared for and adored for four years didn’t show up for school one day. It’s my understanding that they were most likely required to return to Mexico. I can’t begin to tell you what a loss it was. I can only say how glad I am that for the time they were with us they knew exactly where they belonged.