Photo credit: The Texas Observer, Nov 1, 2019
One of the reasons I started writing this blog was that I loved to sit with people and tell stories. And usually they are humorous, giving people a laugh at my expense. But often telling these tales is an attempt to ease the pain I feel over the suffering of others. I initially started telling a version of this story a few months after the election of President Trump when DREAMers, recipients of deportation protection and work authorization under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, saw those protections threatened by President Trump’s heartless compulsion to eliminate the program.
On the day of the presidential election in 2016 I came home from work and my daughter Iliana was preparing snacks and drinks to celebrate as they watched the election returns and she invited me to join them. “No thank you, it may be 5:30 in the afternoon, but I am going to bed, I am going to pull the covers over my head, and I hope to wake up in the morning and find that this nightmare of an election is over and that Hillary Clinton is our next President, but I can’t stand the suspense.”
Around 2:00 in the morning Rebecka climbed into bed and said, “Well, it looks like Trump is our next president” and my first thought was, “Victoria!” That is not her actual name because the woman I was thinking of was a DACA recipient, and when I started telling this story three years ago I was afraid to call attention to her by using her real name . I’m still not 100% she is safe, so we will stick with Victoria.
Victoria is a strong, fierce advocate for women’s rights, health access, and in particular, for the rights of children who had been brought to this country by their parents. The children had done nothing wrong, but most of them knew no other home except the U.S., and now they were being threatened with being sent to a country which was foreign to them. As I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling my heart was breaking because I knew that DACA recipients and their families across the country were terrified, and for me, all that fear was distilled into Victoria.
The next morning when I went to work I wrote an email to her. I don’t recall what it said, but I know the things I tend to say in such circumstances. “I’m sorry this happened, I know it must be hard for you, things look black, but I know that all good-hearted advocates will be fighting this, and if there is anything I can do for you, please let me know.” She did not respond.
The next day I wrote a similar message, and the next day, and the next. I always included some inspirational quote or picture.
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Robert F. Kennedy
She never responded.
I have a guiding principle: don’t help people who don’t want your help. And as the weeks went on, and I kept sending messages, and no replies were received, I began to feel that perhaps I was violating my rule, perhaps I should leave Victoria alone. But I couldn’t do it, I just felt I should offer one positive thought to her every day.
After about six weeks I was sitting in my office and the receptionist called me. “There is someone to see you waiting at the front desk.”
When I rounded the corner I saw the back of a woman holding a bicycle helmet in one hand. Victoria turned, saw me, rushed into an embrace and burst into tears. We stepped into a meeting room and it took a while for Victoria to compose herself.
“I am so sorry I never answered your emails, but it just hurt so much, I couldn’t find words to say. But every day I would print out your message, cut out the text, and tape it to my office wall. And every day I would see those messages I felt a glimmer of hope, and anytime despair would start to rise I would go read the wall. I call it the Wall of Hope. I don’t know how this ends, but I know that you were at my side when everything seemed totally dark and hopeless.”
Now, three years later, we know how this round ends.
My friend Kristine alerted me to this decision. I told her it made me burst into tears. She replied, “Haven’t happy cried in a while.”