I had a WhatsApp message yesterday from a man whose deportation I failed to stop, to my shame. I had not heard from him in a year, since he wished me Happy Thanksgiving from hiding. He said he had some promising news and wanted my advice.

Backing up. He had come to the U.S. on a student visa, graduated from a prestigious California university, and gotten a good job in tech. But he feared that if he returned home he would be killed because he was gay, so he overstayed his visa. He worked and made friends. He bought nice things and paid taxes (I mention these because “contribute to the economy” is how our policymakers tend to measure worth). A fender bender put him in the police gaze, and that was that. They transferred him to ICE and locked him up indefinitely. Without a lawyer, he sought asylum, claiming fear of being tortured in his home country. It was denied. So were his appeals.

When I met him as part of a “chaplaincy” visit, he had been locked up for three years. I knew nothing about immigration law, but he asked me to help. I could do little but be a friend. Inside a locked room, we spent hours discussing books, our childhoods, our shared views of God despite our different religions. I was watching my son play in a basketball tournament when he called me, terrified, because they were deporting him that night. I did not know what to do. And then he was gone. Once he was back in his home country, he sent me a photo over WhatsApp of his bloodied face after a beating the local police had inflicted.

Since then I began to learn asylum law. I still do not know how I could have stopped his deportation.

This weekend I watched “The Infiltrators” (trailer), a true story by this MacArthur Genius winning couple, in which young “Dreamers” in Broward County, Florida turn themselves in to ICE so they can be detained, in order to help get others released. They use public outcry and political pressure to win release for several “low-priority” immigrants. Their bravery, tenacity, and creativity is breathtaking.

When I got that call that my friend was being deported and was on his way to the airport, I did not think to tell him (as the young activists in Florida did with success) refuse to get on the plane. Tell the pilot you refuse. Nearly three years have passed since then. I hope I have acquired some wisdom and experience that can help him restart his life. We made a plan to speak when he can find good WiFi.

Later, I read Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper, and messages from the universe aligned as they sometimes do. In her opening essay, she wrote about how the discourse in our country has become so violent, ugly, and cruel.

“We who believe in dignity, decency, kindness, equality, and love have to get louder, braver, and bolder. We have got to come out of the shadows and start using our voices in every forum possible to highlight the need for those values in our public arena. The bottom line is that we would never accept in our homes what we currently accept in our social media feeds or public forums or from certain public officials. We can do better. We must do better. We can’t step back and simply allow those who are raging, screaming, lying, and undermining to own the main stage.”

We do not have to agree on everything, but we must not lose sight of each other’s human dignity in the process of disagreeing.

She concludes: “Each of us is a light. Each of us has tremendous power to highlight the good and to be an example of the good. Each of us can talk openly about the values we uphold and be examples of how to model successful conflict resolution.” Her prayer for the week echoes this: “Dear God, Please help me be an agent of change. Please help me be a light of love. Whenever I’m tempted to be frustrated by the other, remind me that love—not shame—is the key to bringing us closer. Amen.”

Reading her prayer, some Indigo Girls lyrics that always lift my heart and strengthen my spine came to my lips: “If the world is night, shine my life like a light.” They call me back to the basic truth of what we are here to do: try to shine some light. If only I can figure out how to do it as bright as these times call for.

“Let it Be Me,” by The Indigo Girls

Sticks and stones
Battle zones
A single light bulb
On a single thread for the black
Sirens wail
History fails
Rose-colored glass
Begins to age and crack
While the politicians shadowbox
The power ring
In an endless split decision
Never solve anything
From a neighbor’s distant land
I heard the strain of the common man

Let it be me
(this is not a fighting song)
Let it be me
(not a wrong for a wrong)
Let it be me
If the world is night
Shine my life like a light

Well the world seems spent
And the president
Has no good idea
Of who the masses are
Well I’m one of them
And I’m among friends
We’re trying to see beyond
The fences in our own backyards
I’ve seen the kingdoms blow
Like ashes in the winds of change
But the power of truth
Is the fuel for the flame
So the darker the ages get
There’s a stronger beacon yet

Let it be me
(this is not a fighting song)
Let it be me
(not a wrong for a wrong)
Let it be me
If the world is night
Shine my life like a light

In the kind word you speak
In the turn of the cheek
When your vision stays clear
In the face of your fear
Then you see turning out a light switch
Is their only power
When we stand like spotlights
In a mighty tower
All for one and one for all
Then we sing the common call

Let it be me
(this is not a fighting song)
Let it be me
(not a wrong for a wrong)
Let it be me
If the world is night
Shine my life like a light.

Songwriter: Emily Ann Saliers

Let It Be Me lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

5 thoughts on “Shine

  1. This is a tragic circumstance for your man who was seeking asylum, but a wake up call for you to join in the fray.
    We must justly decide who comes to our country. But no one can be admitted without examination.

  2. Loved your blog today. Just exactly what I needed to hear to buck myself up.

    Thank you and keep writing!!



  3. What a heartbreaking story 😔 Don’t feel shame you couldn’t stop the deportation, You were a good friend to him when he needed support, and you’ve gained so much knowledge since then. I am inspired by what you’re doing to help those in need. This immigration system sounds really messed up. I hope this story can have a happy ending.

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