“Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me.” Frederick Buechner
It is Veteran’s Day and I am grateful beyond words for the service and sacrifice of so many who have ensured my freedom. I have known no other way. I have no idea what it feels like not to be free.
One could spend inordinate time discussing the very meaning of the word and all the adjunctive issues that surround such a complex word! But, my thoughts today have centered on one of the very basic meanings, that is “liberation from slavery or the power of another” and what that looks like among my friends.
One of my friends is a young child who walked to the United States from Honduras almost two years ago….1442 miles. I have several other friends who have done the same. We were asked to pray for him while he walked. It was a joy to meet him months later and realize he was real! He wasn’t a headline, he wasn’t a sound bite, he didn’t sell the news….he was a precious child of God! He made it!
He came from a past where he wasn’t free, in any sense of the word. The complexities of governmental policies along with abject poverty, gangs, human trafficking, poor education, no jobs, corruption that misappropriates funds, all spell no hope, no future for him or his family. Violence and persecution drive the exodus from a country where murder and exploitation are at brutal levels. According to UNHCR, there is a lack of freedom to go to school, go to church, move around. They live in traumatized and violent circumstances.
I read an article some years ago that opined we have more empathy for one person involved in tragedy than many. We become overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and our inability to be of value in the situation, especially events like civil wars and ongoing suffering in other countries. The issues seem conceptual rather than personal.
So knowing this young man has taught me a great deal when I look at the bigger picture. When I was asked to pray for him as he walked those miles, I tried to picture what his days were like. Did he have blisters on his feet? Did he have enough water? Food? Did he make new friends along the way? How in the world did he manage the fear that comes with knowing border patrols have to be paid large sums for entrance points at Guatemala and Mexico? How is all of that accomplished by his family prior to leaving? Did he know or understand those issues? How did he manage to trust the outcome? How much can a young child understand of all the complexities? What had his life been like prior to leaving? I had no idea then or now.
What I do know is we are all God’s children. We are called to love one another. We all have our very own story. We need to learn each other’s stories. We need to know one another. We need to be intentional about making our local community about “us” and our world community about “us” rather than about ourselves. We need to replace fear with love.
I have had the pleasure of sharing several outings with my young friend. A trip to Jackson Falls on the Natchez Trace with several youth provided a day of simple joys. Bowing his head for prayer before our meal, eating a picnic lunch overlooking rolling Tennessee hills, seeing him climbing rocks, sitting under the falls, sliding on water, playing with his friends, looking after the very young children, head bowed again for the benediction, all moments in time for me. I won’t forget his smile, his laughter, his freedom that day. And all his days now.
So I thank him for making me think about what freedom means. And why I join with all of you to honor our Veterans this day.