Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Independence Day

Yesterday I had the privilege of celebrating Independence Day with an extraordinary group of people. The retired Episcopalian minister (and former bishop) down the street invited some neighbors over along with a handful of friends from his church. Among the gathering were a beekeeper, a retired nurse, an accountant, a web site operator, a Canadian (I know, not an occupation, but I forget what he did for a living) and a stay-at-home mother (me). I struggled to keep up with the conversation, which ranged, naturally, over political issues and the state of our union, as well as its history.
We read the Declaration of Independence and mused over George Washington's character. Immigration was a central topic, and since the entire group had a strong left-leaning bias, the talk was not of halting, but of understanding it. Clearly, the United States promises a better living for the poor who come here illegally, and whose wages sent home (speaking of Mexico here) comprise a major part of their country's economy. Physically stopping them from entering the U.S. is likely impossible, and anyway, it doesn't address the issue of why they come. We agreed that spending our war money on helping Mexico solve its problems might be a better use of our resources, but how we, as individuals, could help brought a silence over the table.
It wasn't until long after the fireworks were over and I lay sleepless in bed that I realized that the answer was, quite literally, at that table. The beekeeper spends his winters on the Arizona-Mexico border picking up litter left by the stream of illegal immigrants. (It's not a small task: the culture of poverty these people live in has little regard for proper trash disposal. Literally tons of it is strewn across the landscape, and it is difficult work to remove it.) The web site run by one of the dinner guests is a clearing house for political action. The retired minister himself worked for years as a mediator, helping local people to solve stubborn disputes too expensive to pursue in court for those involved. The accountant works for an organization that resolves difficult Medicaid coverage cases too expensive for hospitals to pursue themselves.
These people left me humbled. What am I doing to address the problems Americans have with each other and with their world neighbors?
What are you doing?

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