An Observation from Pastor Kari

You are watching the almost-four-year-old who calls you grandma, the one who owns your heart, who shares it, of course, with several other kids you adore (none of whom are actually your grandchildren, BTW, because you are a childless queer woman). 

You are watching her kneel on a narrow stainless steel shelf mounted three feet or so off the floor, holding an antiquated telephone receiver up against her ear, the speaking end hanging well below her mouth, well below her chin even. She kneels so that she can get as close to the clear glass window as possible; as close to her “Abu” whose face is framed in that glass square, as possible. After a year of Duolingo, your Spanish is still not good, but even you can understand what she is saying: “Come home, Abu! Come home.” 

Later he will tell you that he told her he couldn’t; that he had to stay there and work — a little story to protect her from the truth that her country, our country, has chosen to lock up her Abu. If she knew the truth she might ask why, and you would have nothing to tell her that could possibly justify his imprisonment. How ludicrous does it sound to say it out loud? He’s in this prison because he dared to cross a border to give his children a better life; a better life that gave this child life itself. 

She will say back to her Abu that her dad works too, but that he still comes home at night. And that will break your heart. 

Then she will sing her Abu the song she was singing in the waiting area before you came back to the visitation carrels: “We are a gentle, gentle people and we are singing, singing for our lives.” She almost has it right. “We are a gentle ANGRY people, and we are singing, singing for our lives.” It’s the song she learned when about 300 people sang it together as they marched with her Abu to his ICE check-in, asking for justice and mercy, receiving instead confirmation that our nation has lost its way.

You watch Abu play a game through the plexiglass: he presses his palm to the glass in one spot, then another, then another. Each time the child follows suit, pressing her palm against his, but with the glass between them. “I love you, Abu,” she says. And now he presses his cheek against the glass; she kisses the spot from her side. #freejose #familiesbelongtogether

Jonathan McClung