As I meditated on this picture of what we are doing in El Paso today, I remembered the time I met a guy who had been an aid worker in the Balkans. He shocked me, as he intended, by telling me that there were almost no toddlers in the refugee camp where he was working. Why? Because when their mothers were fleeing across the mountains, they had to carry the infants and the toddlers had to walk. Or not.
I remembered the time we were coming back from Kenya. I was struggling with a huge duffel bag that RAPTIM had let us bring as carry-on. (Those were the days.) Mary had our infant Bibi in her arms, along with smaller bags. Our two year-old Joe had to walk along holding my hand or my pants as best he could. We were jammed into a crowd in a transition area between the plane and immigration/customs at Heathrow in London. Poor Joe was panicked by the crush of adults and baggage. He kept asking me to pick him up, which was physically impossible along with the heavy, bulky duffel. A kind man heard us and took the duffel from me so I could carry Joe. I thank him to this day.
So I’m meditating on the woman just to the right of the tent in this picture, holding a toddler in her arms. And the mother with a toddler in her arms to the left of the tent, at the head of a line of at least six adults holding children in their arms.
I’m meditating on aching arms and backs, as my joints whine about the discomfort of sitting still. I’m meditating on the pain of standing for hours on crushed rocks, as my meditation stool absorbs the weight of my body and the soles of my feet rest lightly on the concrete. (It’s a beautiful spring morning so I’m meditating outside in the sun.} I’m meditating on the agony of time creeping along lines that seem endless, as I wait for my Insight Meditation timer to tell me I have ten minutes to go.
As a Daoist, I let my qi sink through the “bubbling spring” at the center of my foot, through this concrete to soften the rocks in El Paso and to provide energy to those standing on rough rocks so they can keep holding their precious loads. As a Buddhist, I breathe in the fear, worry, and pain of those waiting in El Paso and breathe out compassion to share our interbeing. As a Christian, I belong with them to the Mystical Body of Christ suffering 40 days in the desert and along the road to Golgatha. As a Muslim, I share jihad with them as we struggle together as sisters and brothers. As a Jew, I thank those among them whose mitzvahs help their fellows to carry on.
I also meditate on the uniformed government workers I see in the front of the picture. I send them lovingkindness to practice on the people they have herded into this underpass. Lovingkindness to practice also on themselves so they can practice compassion on others. As the Buddhist lovingkindness meditation goes: May they be free from anger. May they be free from hostility. May they be free from ill-will. May they live in peace.
As I focus more and more, longer and longer on this scene, I become aware of the tears arising, of the sobs I stifle. I remember what I have written before. Tears are not what hurts. In fact, tears comfort. And I share that comfort with everyone in El Paso, the comfort that means “with strength.”