Weston

July 21st, 2019

Karin is holding Weston. His chubby cheeks are resting on her shoulder. She just finished feeding him some pureed sweet potatoes. He likes sweet potatoes, but Weston tends to wear them more often than he actually eats them. He’s crying a bit. I think he’s bloated. He will probably have a massive burp soon. Once Weston relieves some of the pressure, I am pretty sure that he will crash suddenly. He has that tired, whiny kind of cry. When he falls asleep, Karin will know because Weston will turn into a bag of jello.

Weston is generally a happy boy, but not right now. He is remarkably alert and observant. He is a sensory sponge. He soaks all that is happening around him. He’s fascinated by everything, and we’re fascinated by him.

It just happened. Weston is asleep. It was liking turning off a light switch. I don’t know where Weston went, but he is no longer with us. Karin will hold him for a while. Hans and Gabi should be home soon. The “A” team can take over.

Usually, Weston is okay with me holding him, although now would not be a good time to switch out with Karin. When I hold him, he gets a death grip on my beard. When I eventually pry his fingers loose from my facial hair, he always has several strands of it  in his little fist. He is rather strong for his age.

It’s odd. Sometimes Weston looks exactly like Hans did when was seven months old. Then other times he looks like Gabi. I guess heredity is like that. Weston has the same round head and copper-colored hair that Hans had all those years ago. He has Gabi’s nose. His eyes are still a dark blue.

Gabi said to me, “I wonder what color his eyes will be.”

I told her, “Bloodshot.”

She didn’t like that answer.

 

 

Wedding

July 20th, 2019

“Suffocated by mirrors, stained by dreams
Her honey belly pulls the seams
Curves are stiff upon the hinge
Pale zeros tinge the tiger skin
Moist as grass, ripe and heavy as the night
The sponge is full, well out of sight
All around the conversations
Icing on the warm flesh cake
Light creeps through her secret tunnels
Sucked into the open spaces
Burning out in sudden flashes
Draining blood from well-fed faces
Desires form in subtle whispers
Flex the muscles in denial
Up and down its pristine cage
So the music, so the trial
Vows of sacrifice, headless chickens
Dance in circles, they the blessed
Man and wife, undressed by all
Their grafted trunks in heat possessed
Even as the soft skins tingle
They mingle with the homeless mother
Who loves the day but lives another
That once was hers
The worried father, long lost lover
Brushes ashes with his broom
Rehearses jokes to fly and hover
Bursting over the bride and groom

And the talk goes on
Memories crash on tireless waves
The lifeguards whom the winter saves
Silence falls the guillotine
All the doors are shut
Nervous hands grip tight the knife
In the darkness, till the cake is cut

Passed around, in little pieces
The body and the flesh
The family and the fishing-net
And another in the mesh
The body and the flesh”

Peter Gabriel from “The Family and the Fishing Net”

 

The best part of the wedding was the opportunity to hold Weston in my arms. He is seven months old today. His mama dressed him up in a little outfit for the ceremony. He had on a shirt, a bow tie, and some tight, black pants that just fit over his diaper. Weston looked at the world with wonder, trying to understand what was happening all around him.

The adults did exactly the same thing.

As far as weddings go, things were very simple for Gabi and Hans yesterday. Most weddings, at least in the U.S., are elaborate affairs, planned with the precision and thoroughness usually reserved for a space shuttle launch. In most cases, I think that the preparations for the event overwhelm the wedding itself. The actually marriage is actually anticlimactic, almost a letdown.

Hans is not the best at long term planning. Karin and I found out the date of the wedding three weeks ago. This is not necessarily Hans’ fault. He had to get the marriage license (which only lasts for 90 days), and then he and Gabi had to set up the date with the justice of the peace that they wanted to officiate. A wedding has a lot of moving parts, regardless of how uncomplicated the party involved would like it to be. A wedding, by its very nature, is chaotic. It is never just about two people. It is a maelstrom that sucks in various other persons, and it sucks in the histories of all those persons.

Often the two people planning to wed dream of celebrating the perfect day, a day that will be start a perfect life together. They look forward to some ideal joy in an ideal future. Those folks are doomed to disappointment. We were blessed by the fact that Gabi and Hans already know the reality of a relationship. They had been there, done that. The marriage of Gabi and Hans was not about a dream. It was a declaration to the world that they would continue to persevere in their relationship, regardless of the troubles involved. Hans and Gabi and Weston are in it for the long haul.

I am old. I can feel that every day. My memories shift and flow.

Hans and Gabi’s wedding was never just about Hans and Gabi. It couldn’t be. During the small reception at Brenda’s house, we easily and automatically spoke of weddings from years ago. Karin and I will be married for 35 years on August 11th. Karin had pictures on her phone from our wedding in Germany all those years ago. We were young then. Now we’re not. We are now in the place of Max and Erika, Karin’s parents. We look back at our past with a bit of sadness, but we look forward to their future. Weston is part of their future, so we cling to him.

I slept while Gabi’s family came to visit, prior to the wedding.

It was probably the best thing that I could do.

The people who came to Gabi’s house were all women. Karin connected with them. It is unlikely that I would have been able to do so. Honestly, men are superfluously at a wedding. We just are.

A wedding in July. It was hot. Insanely hot. Okay, maybe natives of Texas might be okay with the environment, but I did not meet any locals who enjoyed the weather. It was brutal.

There was confusion when we arrived at the justice of the peace. There were people that did not show up for the ceremony because they got lost or whatever. Confusion at a wedding is just a taste of the afterlife. Once the couple takes their vows, it just gets crazier.

The actual wedding lasted maybe five minutes. It was blip on the screen, although it was a necessary blip. It needed to happen. Hans was there in his shiny blue shirt, silver vest,  and old jeans. Gabi was there in her white dress. They promised things to each other. They meant them.

The justice of the peace did a good job. He wore his long black robes over his running shoes. I don’t remember all that he said. I do remember that he finished by saying,

“By the power invested in me by the GREAT STATE OF TEXAS, I now pronounce you husband and wife!”

Karin and I were the only people there from Hans’ side of the family. That’s just how it goes sometimes. When Karin and I got married all those years ago, nobody from my family could be there and/or wanted to be there. Maybe it was better so. If my parents had come to Germany for the wedding, I expect that my father would have just bitched about things, because that is what he usually did. In an odd way it was liberating to be married without my family.

The reception was at Brenda’s house. Brenda and Jim are old friends of Hans from back when Hans worked in the oil fields. Jim couldn’t be there, although Hans really wanted him to be. Jim had to go back to work in Midland, which is a desolate oil town in west Texas. However, Brenda invited everybody into their home for a small party.

William came with his wife, Ginger, from Iola to the reception. This was a good thing, since William brought most of the food. He spent hours and hours cooking a brisket. The brisket rocked. We ate the meat, along with potato salad and a herring salad that I had made. It was a quiet party. People sat around and talked. The happy couple cut the cake they got from Sam’s Club, and we all shared it with them. My piece made my pancreas hurt.

The party ended early. Karin and I went home with Gabi, Hans, and Weston. We relaxed and watched a movie about Freddie Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

I held Weston for a while. He rested his head on my shoulder.

That was the best part of the wedding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh God

July 19th, 2019

“Oh God, come to my assistance. Oh lord, make haste to help me.” – the beginning of the 69th Psalm.

On Wednesday, Karin and I attended vespers, the traditional evening prayer, with the monks at Subiaco Abbey. They began the prayer with the verse that begins the 69th Psalm. That’s a good way to start, a very good way. The Augustinian priests at our church used to start their communal prayers in the same manner. When I recited that particular verse with them, it always came from my heart. It was also heartfelt when we were with the Benedictines at Subiaco.

Subiaco is familiar ground. Karin and I visit there whenever we are travelling between our home in Wisconsin and our family members in Texas. Subiaco Abbey lies in the Arkansas River Valley, at the foot of the Ozarks, near Fort Smith on the Oklahoma border. The monastery is a good place for us to stop and rest on that absurdly long road trip. We generally stay there for two nights and a day. It’s a peaceful place, and beautiful in a quiet, unassuming way. We started going there twenty years ago. Subiaco hasn’t changed much, although we have.

I don’t know how many monks reside at Subiaco. It’s hard to tell. I am guessing that thirty men are there on a regular basis. Most of them are old. That was obvious when Karin and I were there at vespers. Most of the monks had grey hair, or no hair. There were several men using walkers, and at least two of them were in wheel chairs. It was striking for me to see elderly monks being pushed along by men my age, and I am not young.

This is not to say that that there are no younger monks. There are only a few, and that is the problem. I did not see enough young monks in their black robes to replace those who are on their way out. At the prayer service, we saw three very young men in attendance. They were in civilian clothing, and I am guessing that they were postulants, guys who are just testing out the lifestyle to find out if it is for them.

At the end of the service, we all prayed for more vocations. We prayed that more young men would join the monks at Subiaco. I have ambivalent feelings about that petition. I understand that for the community of Benedictines at Subiaco it is a matter of life and death for it to get new blood. Many religious orders are withering away because they cannot get new members. Monasteries and friaries that were once bustling with activity are now empty and silent.

Why is that?

I don’t know the answer to the question, although I have some ideas.

The Catholic Church, like other religious institutions, leans heavily on tradition. There is an emphasis on continuity. We used Gregorian chant to sing the psalms at vespers. Okay, we sang them in English, and not in Latin, but the monks were still following a pattern that stretches back for centuries. There is nothing wrong with that. In a way, it is impressive to be among people who have a living history, especially in a world that suffers from amnesia. Time is a continuum. Sometimes, we need to connect with the past to build a future.

It bothers me that the Benedictines might want to attract very young men. That implies that they want to bring immature people into their ranks. I understand that idea. The Army did the same thing with me. They seem to want men whom they can mold and shape. That can be a recipe for disaster. Why not recruit men who have lived a little? Maybe, look at guys who have had a girlfriend, or a career, or a passion. Look for men who have seen the world, and now want to retreat from it. Why go for somebody with no life experience?

Unfortunately, religious institutions oft times forget that once, long ago, they were scary and threatening innovations. In the days of the late Roman Empire, St. Benedict and his small group of followers were a new and unexpected movement of monasticism, one that probably saved the West during the Dark Ages. The Franciscans were considered crazy back in the 13th century, and they are actually pretty radical even now. The Holy Spirit makes all things new. and that generally annoys people.

New wine into new wineskins. – Matthew 9:14-17

Maybe the old has to pass away. It does anyway, no matter what we do. Subiaco, in its present form, may cease to exist someday. That will be a cause for sadness, but perhaps something better will replace it.

While we were at Subiaco, Karin and I ate our meals with a group of teenagers who were there for a church camp. They all wore t-shirts that said “The Tribe: Student Ministry”. Like it or not, these kids are the future. I am not. You are not. These young people will create a new world, like it or not. I listened to them talk. They are sometimes silly, and often quite clueless. So what? I am too.

The Benedictines have survived so long by reinventing themselves over and over again. The Catholic Church has done the same thing. All living things do that.

Maybe, some day, there will be no more monks.

Maybe there will be something better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold Feet

July 13th, 2019

Prayer of the Refugee

from Rise Against

“Warm yourself by the fire, son
And the morning will come soon
I’ll tell you stories of a better time
In a place that we once knew

Before we packed our bags
And left all this behind us in the dust
We had a place that we could call home
And a life no one could touch

Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!
Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!

We are the angry and the desperate
The hungry, and the cold
We’re the ones who kept quiet
And always did what we were told

But we’ve been sweating while you slept so calm
In the safety of your home
We’ve been pulling out the nails that hold up
Everything you’ve known

Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!
Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!

So open your eyes, child
Let’s be on our way
Broken windows and ashes
Are guiding the way

Keep quiet no longer
We’ll sing through the day
Of the lives that we’ve lost
And the lives we’ve reclaimed

Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!
Don’t hold me up now
I can stand my own ground
I don’t need your help now
You will let me down, down, down!

Don’t hold me up
(I don’t need your help, I’ll stand my ground)
Don’t hold me up
(I don’t need your help)
No! No! No!
Don’t hold me up!
(I don’t need your help, I’ll stand my ground)
Don’t hold me up!
(I don’t need your help, I’ll stand my ground)
Don’t let me down, down, down, down, down!”

Turki is a good man. I need to say that up front. He is the father of eleven children, and he does his very best to care for them. He’s done a good job so far, better than I could ever do. He took his entire family out of war torn Syria, and he managed to get them into the United States, after a short stay in Turkey. Turki and his wife, A’isha, are a team. They are solid. Turki is in many ways a model refugee in this country: he’s smart, hardworking, and honorable.

However…

Turki is stuck. It’s not his fault. It just is. When he came to this piece of America, he got a job at a Muslim school doing janitorial work. He found himself working inside of an Arabic cocoon. At the school everyone speaks Arabic, so he has learned very little English in the last two years. Since he started working at the school, Turki has not received a raise. This is a problem. He needs more money.

A couple weeks ago, Turki asked me to help him to find a better job. I have tried to help him to find other work. It has not gone well. Turki is reluctant to put himself out there. I understand how he feels. I know how it is to live in a foreign land. I know how scary it is.

On the other hand, there is no other way to get a job in America. A person has to be vulnerable and frightened over and over again to find work. That’s how we do it here. Turki doesn’t know how to find work in this country. He can’t fill out a job application. He can’t write up a resume. He can’t talk himself through an interview.

On Monday, I texted both Turki and his wife. I had it set up for Turki to take an entrance exam for the Laborers Union in Milwaukee. I was willing to take him there early on Tuesday morning. I got a text back from A’isha that it was all good. She said that I should come to get Turki on Tuesday morning. I was actually a bit surprised that Turki was going to follow through with this.

He didn’t.

I got a text late on Monday evening saying that Turki couldn’t make it to the test.

Yeah, whatever.

I was pissed off. I had made arrangements to get Turki to a test that could easily have gotten his foot in the door for a construction job. At the last minute, he got cold feet. He had decided, for whatever reason, to stay within his comfort zone. That’s okay. He can do that. But he has to do it without me.

I have spent the week angry about all this. Does it affect me personally? No, I could easily write off this family immediately. I don’t owe them anything.

My contact at Workforce Development told me that Turki and his family could possibly qualify for state money as refugees. I went to their house this afternoon to tell them about it. I was ready to be a hard ass about it, and tell them to get their act together.

Turki was there, but not A’isha. I tried to explain to him through his son, Ibrahim, how it worked. Turki could get money from Wisconsin, but he had to apply for it in person. He didn’t like that. He couldn’t understand.

Ibrahim told me, “He wants somebody to come with him.”

I replied sadly, “I can’t do that now. My wife and I are going to Texas for our son’s wedding. I can go with your father in August, if he wants that.”

Ibrahim nodded, “Yes, he wants you to come with him.”

Then Turki said to me, “Sit down. Stay for a while.”

I didn’t want to do that. I was frustrated. I made to leave.

Turki followed me out the door.

He said to me, “You go to Texas. I say to you, ‘Ma a’salama’. ” (That is: “peace be with you”.)

I turned abruptly, and asked Turki, “Do you still want a better job?”

He told me, “Yes, yes, I need a job with more money.”

I looked hard at Turki and said, “You need to take an English class. You can’t get a good job without English.”

He nodded, “Yes, I know. Maybe, maybe, you help me learn more English?”

I sighed, “Yes, I do that.”

Turki smiled at me. “Thank you, Frank.”

I felt like crying.

I suddenly realized that I can’t cut these people loose. I am going to help them (somehow) no matter what else happens. I can’t turn my back on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Infidel

July 11th, 2019

The Islamic Resource Center (IRC) in Greenfield, Wisconsin, is an unassuming sort of place. It shares a building with a medical office. The IRC has a couple conference rooms, a library, and a large meeting area. The facility has beautiful artwork, and it also has the largest collection of Islamic literature in the state. During the day the place is often empty, or nearly so. Perhaps the IRC has more traffic in the evening. I don’t know.

I have been to the IRC a number of the times over the years. Sometimes, I have gone there for an Arabic class. Once, I was there to talk about a book that I wrote. I know the place well. I am comfortable there.

I went there yesterday to read stories to small children. The IRC offers a story hour for them. I volunteered to read to the little kids. At first, I thought that no one would show up. The session was supposed to start at 1:00, but nobody had arrived by 1:15.

There was a knock on the back door. Two young girls and their mother stood there, waiting for somebody to open it. That I did. The mother was dressed in black. She had on a long, flowing robe with a hijab. Her daughters were dressed in pink. One of the girls was in third grade. I don’t know the age of the other one. They had often come to the IRC to read books. The mom told me that she was going to wait in the minivan in the parking lot while I read with the girls. The mother had a two-year-old son on the car, and he was taking a much-needed nap. The mother put her two daughters into my care, and then she went back to her son in her van.

I had picked out three books to read with the kids. One was “Ruler of the Courtyard”.  It was about a little girl and her chickens. Another was “The Butter Man”, a story about Berbers in Morocco. The third book was called “A Single Pebble”, and it was a story about the Silk Road and 9th Century China.

The three of us spent a long time reading “A Single Pebble”.

Aja and Sophia both read very well. I seldom read to them. Mostly, they read to me. We ran into problems with “A Single Pebble”. This was not due to any lack of reading comprehension on their part. It was more of a lack of cultural comprehension.

The story of “A Single Pebble” traces the path of a small, smooth piece of jade from China to medieval Italy. The pebble trades hands repeatedly while on the Silk Road. It is exchanged at Kashgar, Samarkand, Baghdad, and Antioch. Every person who carries the stone knows that is going to a child in the West from a girl who lives where the sun rises.

I tried to explain some things as we read the story. At one point early in the book, the father of the Chinese girl gives the jade stone to a Buddhist monk. I asked the two girls,

“Do you know what a ‘monk’ is?”

They shook their heads.

I told them, “A monk is a person whose job is to pray.”

That confused them.

Aja asked me, “Who do they pray to?”

I answered, “They pray to God.”

Aja then abruptly asked me, “Are they believers or non-believers?”

I had to think for a minute. It was a loaded question.

I said, “Some monks are believers, but some are not. When I travel with my wife, we usually stay overnight with the monks, and we pray with them.”

Aja looked at me intently, and then she asked anxiously,

“What do they say when they find out that you are Muslim?”

We were both silent for a little while.

I told Aja, “I am not Muslim. I am a Christian. Is that okay?”

Her eyes got wide for a moment. Then she said,

“Sure, that’s okay.”

We read some more.

In another chapter, people were described as “pilgrims”. I asked the girls if they knew what pilgrims were. They didn’t know.

I told them, “A pilgrim is a person who travels far to visit a holy place.”

They didn’t quite get it.

“Okay, Muslims go to Mecca. That is a holy place for them. The Muslims who go to Mecca are pilgrims.”

Aja nodded. Then she asked me, “What is your holy place?”

That was a deep and penetrating question. I had to think really hard about that. Finally I said,

“I was to Jerusalem once.”

She asked me, “Why is that holy?”

I told her, “Jerusalem is holy to Christians because of Jesus. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the place where we think Jesus was buried. The city is also holy to Muslims. I was at the Dome of the Rock.”

Aja nodded and said, “and the Masjid Al Aqsa is there too.”

“Yes, it is.”

Then I told her and her sister, “Jerusalem is holy to Christians, Jews, and Muslims.”

The girls smiled, and Aja said,

“That’s nice.”

I replied, “It is nice…unless we all fight.”

Aja asked me, “Are you from فلسطين (Palestine)?”

“No, I was born here.”

She said to me, “I was born here too, but my parents are from other places.”

Everybody’s parents are from another place. That is universal.

We read the rest of the story. The piece of jade found its way to a little boy in Venice. Also, a small piece of broken colored glass found its way from a church in Italy to a little girl in China. It all came full circle.

When we finished reading, I took the girls out to their car. Their mom was waiting for them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shouting into the Whirlwind

July 9th, 2019

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:

“Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.”

Job 38: 1-3

The prison at Taycheedah has no air conditioning. I suppose that there are a couple offices scattered through the complex that have air, but the facilities that are occupied by the offenders have none. Why is that?

I initially asked myself that question, and then I realized that this was Taycheedah, a facility run by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. In a prison, much like in the Army, the question “why” is meaningless. “Why” isn’t relevant to anything. Things just are.

The prophet Job would understand that.

Does this mean that all the prisoners in Taycheedah languish in the heat and humidity of summer? Well, yeah, sorta. Many inmates have fans, but they basically just push the hot air around and make a terrible racket. Perhaps the noise itself is comforting in a way. I don’t know.

There are also fans in the visitor center at Taycheedah. These are major league, serious business, industrial sized fans. There are at least four of them in the room, all of them together creating the sound level of a Category 4 hurricane. The noise makes it nearly impossible for a visitor to have a normal conversation with a prisoner. Karin and I found that out when we went to Taycheedah yesterday to see the girl that we love.

We stayed with the young woman for almost three hours. During that time, the coherence of our discussions was intermittent. Speaking for myself, I failed to understand the young woman repeatedly, even though she often had to shout to make herself understood. Keep in mind that Karin and I were only sitting across a coffee table from this young lady. Perhaps there was some continuity in our extended conversation, but I missed a lot of it. I heard and remember only snippets of the talk, and those are what I will attempt to describe.

When visiting our girl, the first order of business is food. After we hugged briefly, I asked her,

“Ice cream?”

She smiled and replied, “Yes.”

Since we visited after a holiday weekend, the vending machines in the visitors center were almost naked. There were no more Dove bars, and the number of Klondike bars was very limited. I bought the girl an ice cream sandwich with my bag of quarters (note: a visitor can only enter the visiting room with a bag of change and a locker key). I walked back to her and handed her the ice cream. I asked her,

“You want a soda?”

“Yeah.”

“What kind?”

“I don’t know. Some kind of Mountain Dew. What do they have?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. Do you want me to check out the vending machine and give you the selection?”

“Yes, please.” And she gave me a happy smile as she unwrapped her ice cream bar.

I came back to her and said, “Okay. They have Mountain Dew “Ice”, some kind of orange Mountain Dew, and a blue Mountain Dew.”

“Get me the blue.”

I did.

Karin talked to the girl, as she tried out her soft drink.

I asked her, “So, how is it?”

The young woman thought for a moment and said, “Do you know what those red, white, and blue ice cream bars taste like?”

“Well, kinda…”

She smiled and said, “This tastes like the ‘blue’ part of the Popsicle. It’s kind of berry-flavored.”

Translation: It tastes sweet and artificial. Nice.

As the visit progressed, we discussed many things, some of which can I remember.

At one point, the girl described the process necessary for her to come visit with us. She said,

“There’s a strip down search when you leave the dorm and one when you leave here.”

Karin didn’t quite understand, so the young woman explained it in detail.

“You take off all of your clothes, bend over, and spread your cheeks. Get it?”

Karin gave her a nervous smile, and said, “I wouldn’t want to do that.”

The young woman rolled her eyes, then she gave Karin a hard stare, and said, “If you don’t like it, don’t go to prison.”

Sage advice.

Later the girl asked me, “Can you get me some #2 pencils and an eraser? I am not allowed to have art supplies yet, but I can draw with the pencils.”

She went on, “I have pens through the commissary, but they are junk. They only write for a little while. Maybe just one letter.”

I asked her, “Didn’t I send you some pens through that vendor?”

She nodded and said, “Yeah, they work, but they make my handwriting look sloppy. Too much ink at once. The pens from the commissary have ink in them, but they just stop writing.”

I replied, “I’ll order the pencils and the eraser.”

(Note: I went to the vendor’s website and ordered the young woman ten pencils. I ordered so many because I could not order an eraser. Why? See the paragraph I wrote earlier in this essay about “why”).

We talked about the young woman’s radio. She had requested that I buy her a radio (with headphones). I dutifully did so. She received a radio encased in clear plastic. You can figure out why it came like that. Somebody could have smuggled something in an ordinary radio. Raving paranoia.

I asked her, “What do you listen to?”

The girl replied, “Mostly country music. Those are the strongest signals through these concrete walls. I can get an oldies station, like oldies from the 80’s. If I put the radio against the wall near my feet, I can just barely get a rock station.”

She went on, “When I was in the Kenosha jail, I heard a black woman listening to country music. I asked her about it. She said, ‘I was in Taycheedah. That was all they had there!’ So, this lady knew all sorts of country songs.”

When it got to be around 5:30, I wanted to go home. I was tired. Karin and I hugged the girl, and we went to the guard desk. Karin was laughing when I got there.

Karin said, “The guard says we can’t go!”

The guard, a black woman with the coldest eyes on earth, said to us,

“I’m wasn’t kidding. Nobody leaves during the head count.”

I asked her, “So, what do we do?”

She nodded. “Go back to that table and sit down.”

Okay, I’m not a prisoner, but I’m still going to play this game?

I guess so.

We sat with the girl for another half an hour, while they counted everybody and anybody. Eventually, the count was clear.

Karin noted that the prison rules stated we could only hug an inmate once at the end of the visit, but because we had not been not allowed to leave when we wanted, then maybe we might be able to hug this young woman again.

The young woman shook her head solemnly.

“No, not a good idea. I am playing by the rules. I want out of here. I am staying under the radar.”

I wish the girl had had this plan a few years ago. Oh well.

We left. An adventure as always.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Act of Futility

July 5th, 2019

ICE (Immigration  and Customs Enforcement) and USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) share the same home on Knapp Street in downtown Milwaukee. They are both part of the Department of Homeland Security. Most of the time their office is a busy place. Day in and day out, people go there to apply for a green card, or to take a citizenship test. ICE agents leave from there every day to reek havoc on local communities and tear families apart. Good things happen there, and some pretty ugly things too. The building is a microcosm of the entire U.S. immigration system. It is place where some people find the answers to their dreams, and it is also a place where nightmares begin.

The New Sanctuary Movement sponsors a protest in front of the ICE building every Thursday morning at 9:00. This particular Thursday happened to fall on the 4th of July. The protest usually consists of a number of people holding signs and walking silently back and forth in front of the ICE building. My first experience with this “Jericho Walk” was on the 4th. I don’t know this for certain, but I suspect that the name “Jericho Walk” comes from the Old Testament, when Joshua and his followers walked around the walls of the ancient city of Jericho until the walls came tumbling down. The walls of the ICE building in Milwaukee have not yet tumbled down.

About twenty people gathered together on Thursday to march in front of the ICE office. Of course, since it was a federal holiday, the building was silent and empty. There was nobody inside the structure to observe our quiet protest. On the other hand, there were no people inside who were actively planning to destroy the lives of immigrants. Good thing and/or a bad thing? Who can say?

Most of the people in the group were old. I don’t why that was, but it was. There several persons from the Quaker community. A few Catholics. There was one elderly Jewish lady with a sign partially written in Hebrew. It was an eclectic group of people, whose only bond was their interest in the well-being of immigrants, legal or otherwise.

One young couple showed up just after the walk started. They had their eight-month-old boy in a stroller. Predictably, people gathered around the stroller to look at the little kid. I asked the dad what the child’s name was. He answered, “Merrick.”

We walked for about one half hour, and then we all gathered to pray in front of the building. Since it was early on a holiday, there had been very little traffic on Knapp Street, and consequently almost nobody saw us walk or pray. In a way, it all seemed pointless.

Was it?

I don’t know. I believe in karma. Every act, no matter how small, has an effect. Did we have an effect? Yes. Do we know what that effect is? No. Does it matter if we know? No.

Maybe just joining together for a little while changed the people who walked. Maybe each of us felt encouraged to keep working to help immigrants. Maybe we will do something new. Maybe we will keep trying.

We will make a difference, even if it is only to Merrick.