I keep trying to imagine a conversation between two refugees. One, the survivor of the ill-fated Carnival cruise ship Triumph, and the other one of the 190,000 people living in refugee camps in Uganda.
Refugee: “So you had to flee by boat! I remember the night I fled my homeland–did you also depart under the cover of dark, fearing for your life, knowing you would never see the shores of home again?”
Vacationer: “Uh… I mean… we just left for a few days, you know, on a vacation. We left in the morning; it was kind of a party atmosphere.”
Vacationer: “But let me tell you, the food situation was atrocious–we had to wait an unbearable amount of time for our food!”
Refugee: “Yes, yes, I know what you mean–we also must endure much waiting before we can eat. Isn’t it such a struggle to wait, sometimes days, always wondering if there will be enough for your small child?”
Vacationer: “Yeah.. well.. hmm. I mean, we actually ate three times a day. It’s just that we had to wait a couple of hours before, you know, each meal. …And our children were safe at home with the nanny.”
Brief pause, then the Refugee, trying to be helpful:
Refugee: “I heard that you had toilet issues–”
Vacationer: “OH YES! You have no idea! YES! Water running everywhere, my bathroom carpet was soaked, the entire boat just smelled bad; the conditions were just deplorable!”
Refugee: “Running water? …yes, you are right, I have no idea.”
Refugee: “I am confused. You left your home willingly, and have the necessary paperwork to return. You sailed on a ship that was never in danger of sinking. You endured stench, but no disease; discomfort, but no death; creepy glances, but no rape. You lived without electricity and running water for a couple of days?
Vacationer: (pause) “Yes”
Refugee: “What you endured for days was literally a vacation compared to what I must endure for a lifetime.
Again, I’m confused–Why is your story the headline and mine the footnote?”
The debacle that happened on the Triumph was a certainly public relations nightmare and a major customer service failure. It was not an injustice.
I have a hunch that fighting injustice comes from our core as humans (When was the last time you saw a squirrel chaining herself to a tree, using civil disobedience to protest the garnishing of her acorns?) In all seriousness, I think that’s part of what it means to be created in the image of God; God fights injustice, and so must his representatives. I say ‘must’ not because we feel compelled by force of command, but rather because it’s simply who we are.
The trumped-up tragedy of the Triumph stimulates a placebo affect in our hearts. We pacify our yearning for recompense by ingesting a placebo tragedy. We placate our activist hope for change by railing against the evil of corporate incompetence.
We lack the discernment to distinguish between inconvenience and intolerable.
For the sake of those wasting away around the world, may we recover our discernment and remember our humanity.
May we grow from that which humbles us, and may we fight like heaven against all that makes us less human.