A Case for Empathy

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We’ve just finished dinner. After some convincing to clean her plate of chicken and broccoli she’s rewarded with the promise to enjoy some fun before going to bed. “Let’s play, Daddy!”

“What should we play?”

“Super Connie and Super Daddy!” They run through the house exhibiting their superpower: flying. And it was super. Hearing her sweet voice ask her daddy to play, watching her face light up when she proclaimed the game to be played, and witnessing the innocence and imagination of my child and the humor and support of my husband. I reflected on the normalcy of it all in contradiction to the horror and circumstances other families were experiencing at the same moment my daughter took flight with her daddy, safe in her home, embraced in our love and pride, and without any knowledge of cruelty.

As I read to her in her bed and then snuggled with her before saying goodnight, my mind thought of all the families unable to hold their babies–so I held her a little longer, a little tighter.

In the wee morning hours, the cry of my youngest stirs me from my slumber. I have to shake the fog and peel open my eyes but I go to her and comfort her. Because I can. Because she needs me to be her source of security, love, warmth, and assurance. As I stare at her sweet, sleepy face I try to imagine what I would do if she were taken from me. How hopeless I would feel. How lost I would be without those soft cheeks, baby curls, gummy smile, coos…

My babies are my everything. My life was never truly tangible until I became a mother and now I see, feel, and hear through my children. And I am certain that without them I would cease to exist.

How then, how, are these families coping with the separation and despair of losing each other? How do they retain life and hope when up against nearly unbeatable circumstances? How do they even begin to process what is happening, and why–especially the children?

The questions that disturb me more and which are harder to answer are those that allow this to happen. Why would our nation, a nation founded by immigrants, impose any practice that would separate families and neglect and traumatize children? How did we become so heartless, so self-absorbed, so dismissive?

I’m not one to get involved in politics too often and I admit I skim over the news headlines and ignore the noise of the media–most days it is depressing and scary. But I got sucked into a thread on social media and found myself reviewing the opinions of others on this matter. My confusion grew and I was ill at the realization that our society, the citizens of the USA, lack empathy for these families. That we could justify such policies or treatment because “they shouldn’t have crossed the border illegally” or “they shouldn’t have put their children in that situation.”

It’s so easy when these things are not happening to us, to those we love… when they are happening hours away from the comfort of our home… when we don’t personally witness the distraught and turmoil and chaos to ignore it and be blissfully ignorant.

Many of these families being ripped apart by a no tolerance policy are seeking asylum. Can you even imagine the circumstances these people are facing or their desperation to flee war, poverty, abuse, exploitation, starvation, or persecution? Can you imagine their hope for a better life, especially for their babies?

They came with hopes to protect their children, their rights, freedom and to give them the best possible life. They have likely risked everything to do this and do so with the hope and expectations of compassion and safety and empathy. I can only imagine how terrifying and heartbreaking this is to experience firsthand. I wouldn’t survive without my babies. And there is no way these children can comprehend this unfortunate and unfair policy. Their need and desire to be with their parents is instinctual. 

Some 2,500 non-verbal children have been separated from parents without documentation or the ability to reunite. These children are victims and are experiencing a horror I can’t even imagine. Imagine never seeing your child again and knowing they are not with family all because you tried to seek a better life. And that is the real issue for me in this matter: this is an empathy and humanity issue.

Not your child, not your problem, right?

Fortunately, for us, we don’t have to make the choices these families do. We don’t know what it’s like to be oppressed.

If there is any parent, who can’t try to consider what this would do to their hearts, children, family, or security, then you lack empathy. This is not about the politics and who you voted for, this is about the bond and protection of the family unit. Families of other cultures or countries are no less valuable than your own and if this were happening to your family, you’d be outraged.

Empathy is not something that comes naturally, especially in our society. I can only hope that the act of becoming a parent alone would help close that gap. We all know the reality, though. “If it doesn’t impact me and mine it isn’t worth much consideration.” Our nation and its people should be absolutely appalled that this is happening on our soil—that we would conduct such a terrible act against children. That we would revert so far from the founding principles of this country.

This experience will result in lifelong psychological consequences for these children. I pray they will be reunited and that our administration comes up with a better solution.

And I hope for more empathy in this world.

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