You’re headed to work, and all you can think about is money. There’s never enough, and your brain begins the complex calculations of what will have to wait until the next time you get paid. You sigh. Will life ever get any easier?
You’re riding the bus today, and it’s as crowded and stifling as always, but it’s just a means to an end, a way to get to your job, one you cannot afford to lose. You comfort yourself with the small hope that everyone else on the bus is likely in the same position as you.
You know the route as if its turns were the lines of your work-worn palms, so it surprises you when the bus lurches to a stop. Everyone groans, figuring the delay is from more construction. That means you’ll be later than you thought.
Until an unfamiliar pop sounds. A whoosh of air releases, and then another, and you realize that the bus’s tires are flattening beneath you. That’s when the screaming starts and the heat you felt before melts into icy fear. Those pops are no accident. They come from guns.
Chaos takes over as mothers cover babies, as children’s eyes widen in confusion. But then: Silence falls like a dark wave as a man steps through the blown-out door and slowly climbs the steps, calmly staring at the packed rows of humanity. He holds his gun with the ease of someone who is used to wielding its power, aims it at the driver, and shoots him directly in the head.
The noise is shattering and the shrieks that involuntarily follow are rapidly shushed by the other passengers. Who will be next? The quieter you can be, the better your chance of becoming invisible.
The man sneers, kicks the bloody body slumped before him, and, taking his time, steps slowly off the crime scene.
No one moves. No one dares. All you can hear are the sniffling sounds of people weeping. All you can smell is the warm stream of urine that has escaped down your leg.
This is not a scene of fiction. This event played out on a very busy highway in Guatemala City, just moments before my own family drove by in our safe, comfortable car. We saw the carnage and had no idea what had occurred until we read about it later online. Tragically, this is not a one-off, a strange incident in many Central American countries. People, like the owners of this bus, are randomly selected and given an impossible choice: Pay the gang or die. Payment can come in many forms. You can sell your daughter’s body to them if you’d like. Or your son’s. Maybe your wife? They have plenty of ideas of what they’d like to do with her. If you cannot pay the impossible fee, more than you would earn in months and months of work, they know where you work. They know where you eat and walk and live. They will find you. And they will make an example of you.
If you don’t want to turn over your sweet, innocent daughter to them, what will you do? None of your neighbors have any more money than you do. You are lucky to have the job you do. No one around you is building businesses or creating work. There is no way out.
So you choose the most desperate of paths. Word has trickled back to your town that this path has worked for a few, that they have reached safety. You will flee in the night, leaving behind your house, the community you love, your job, most of your family. You will find a way to get your wife and children to safety. If you can just cross the U.S. border, you can call out for asylum. That is the only hope, the only way to turn away from the horrors that await your son, your wife, your daughter if you don’t at least try.
Immigration in all of its forms is a complex issue. But the next time we think that we know, the next time we sit in our safe, un-threatened, air conditioned homes and tell people to go about things in one way, let us stop and imagine if the guns were knocking down our door. Let us at least consider what we would do to save our own sons, daughters, husbands and wives. Let us consider that there are true emergencies.
Let us consider that, for every ten people who abuse any system, there are thousands for whom that system was put in place, thousands who are quite literally dying for it to work the way it should.
Let us consider that living without a safety net to catch us in our need is something most of us will never experience, not in our country where the nets are built in for the vast majority of us.
Let us consider that every life is divine and sacred, ours no more than another’s.
Let us consider that we may be wrong. Or we may be right. But at least let us honestly and carefully consider all of the sides: the vast, prismatic mass of them.
There is no wisdom without consideration. And oh how we need people of wisdom right now.
Let us step away from the noise, the way we thought things were and at least consider. With prayer and silence and stillness, the kind that will then lead us to considered action.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24