Redeeming America’s Shining Light

In many ways, the Fourth of July symbolizes everything we love about the United States in general and about being Americans in specific.
It’s a time for bright summer sunshine, picnic feasts, outdoor fun and gatherings of families and friends. Most of us have the day off. We enjoy the free time and, yes, the freedoms that we take for granted.

Life is generally pretty good on the Fourth of July. And then come the fireworks and sparklers. Oooh, sparklers, my favorite part. Probably yours, too. OK, maybe the barbecue is your favorite part.

Hmm, I might have to rethink those fireworks.

And now, I will apologize in advance because there is no way I can make what follows sound humorous. Quit now and get another helping off the grill while you still have a chance.

All barbecue sauces aside, with each passing day, it gets harder to hold aloft that shining vision of America, our America, the one we take so personally and love so dearly. The one we like to think of as a virtuous light in the world.

I feel we have lost any virtue we ever had. Today, thousands of immigrant children are being held in filthy, squalid conditions at our southern border, separated from their parents and bereft of basic human comforts.

This is not my America. This does not align with my vision of who we are, what kind of people we should be or how we see ourselves.

Where is our kindness? Where is our prized fairness, our integrity?

These children came to the border because their parents brought them there. That’s what families do, they stay together. Babies go where their parents go. The right or the wrong of seeking asylum or attempting to illegally enter another country, even our country — America the good, America the beautiful — does not make these children guilty of any crime. And yet they are being held in vile, disgusting conditions, worse than those in which anyone would even leave a dog.

To date, seven children have died while in U.S. custody. In our custody. Yours and mine, America’s custody.

Please take just one moment out of this holiday week to imagine how you would feel if your baby, your child, or your grandchild was forcibly taken away from you and placed in a detention center.

How inhuman and inhumane would that suddenly seem? How terrified would you be? How terrified would that child be? How would they ever recover from this trauma?

I know your reason would fly out the door. Justifications would elude you. Could you ever sleep again if you didn’t know if your child was all right or where your child had been taken? You might think you could survive anything yourself, but please God save my baby.

Is it OK because it’s someone else? Someone poor, someone so terrified of something (poverty) or someone (violence) that they would leave on foot with only the clothes on their backs and their children in their arms, trying to get to safety in the nicest country in the world? The richest country in the world? The cleanest, safest, happiest country in the world?

I’m not a bleeding-heart liberal, but my heart is truly bleeding with sorrow, anger and anguish because if someone, anyone wrenched my baby out of my arms I would die.

Once, about 30 years ago, I accepted a job promotion and it required me to move to another city hours away. I had to go on ahead, I had no choice. I had to leave my only child, my baby daughter who was 16 weeks old, safely with my husband who was staying behind to sell our house before joining me. I cried for days, but still managed to report for work and located a temporary apartment for us. I was back with my baby in one week.

I went home, walked in the door, picked her up with a big smile and held her out for a kiss and a snuggle. She went rigid in my arms. She turned her little face to one side then the other, anything to avoid looking at me. There were no smiles, no soft coos of recognition, only a silent sadness. She let me know that she had been hurt by my sudden absence. It must have seemed like forever.

How was she to know I was coming back? How was she to know she would ever see me again?

I cried for an hour at least and would not let go of her. And we have been as close as two peas every day since.

I wake up now in the middle of the night, thinking I need to drop everything else I’m doing on this earth and go to the border. I dream about living in a tent with nothing, no showers, no changes of clothing, nothing, just like those children are being forced to endure, minus the freezing cages and concrete.

Maybe if America saw some little old grandma lady, a citizen, in poor conditions at the border, protesting this despicable American policy, maybe Washington would stop this horror. And every day, I would sing:

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood.
From sea to shining sea!

You can help: Speak up, donate, educate yourself and vote.

Contact your congressional representatives, demand an end to the senseless cruelty taking place in your own country at the expense of defenseless children and their families.

According to the New York Times, several nonprofits are providing free legal representation and other services for immigrants and the families of those detained. Pick one, help them.

• United We Dream
• American Civil Liberties Union
• Mijente
• Immigrant Families Together
• Save the Children
• Immigrant Justice Corp