I am the granddaughter of a refugee.
Without the courage and resilience of my grandfather, I wouldn’t be here in this country. I wouldn’t have privilege. I may not have food or housing or the respect I deserve as a woman.
Or I may not be alive. I may never have been born.
Somewhere back in each of our histories, I can imagine that we have the one person who was a refugee, an alien in a new land during a time of exile. In the diaspora, they were strangers and lived on the grace and hospitality of others.
Exodus 22 says that we “shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
My grandfather was an alien, a refugee.
My grandfather told me the ugly stories of genocide, of wandering around the Caucasus region for years as an Armenian during and after the Genocide. Like the Israelites and the Syrians, he was in the wilderness. He ate little bits of greens on the side of the road, wondering where and when his next meal would come.
And he wondered when the day would come that life would get better.
He told me about the children thrown into the Euphrates River so the Turks wouldn’t steal their babies. He told me about their screaming that never left his head.
They wanted control of how things ended. They didn’t want to give their oppressors the power, and they ended or risked their own lives.
So when I see a child’s breathless body resting on the beaches of Turkey, I wonder if that’s what my grandfather saw. I wonder if that was the scene in Turkey 100 years ago. I wonder if my grandfather had sleepless nights worrying that this would be his final scene.
The children and women of 1915 had no chance to become refugees like my grandfather did. Many women and men and children of 2015 have no chance of becoming refugees like my grandfather did.
So what would it take for us to welcome the alien in our land? What would it take to follow this edgy request from God? Is it remembering that one person in our family’s history was an alien in this land? Is it seeing the horrific photo of a small lifeless child on the beach?
People want to build walls and fences and export the aliens in our land. And they forget that in the blood coursing through their veins is refugee blood. They carry – we all carry – the DNA of someone who came to this country hoping for a fresh beginning because of starvation or oppression.
Will we all remember? Will we all work?
Or will the lifeless continue wash ashore on the banks of the Euphrates or Mediterranean or Atlantic or any body of water? Their blood is on our world’s hands and mixed into the water of our world.