Losing Nearly Everything
My New Immigrant Friends
For about three months now, I’ve been helping to caretake two households of Afghan refugees — a couple and a family of six. (I won’t name or individualize them, in order to preserve their identities from scrutiny or intrusion.) There are about twenty of us in the helping circle, with a dozen very, very active.
Active means paying rent, teaching English, arranging transportation (my main bailiwick), acquiring food, including halal meats (three food pantries are helping), teaching English, arranging for dental and medical help (one surgery, two tooth problems so far), arranging for driving tests, teaching English, interacting with ICE and other government agencies, providing cars, air conditioners, microwaves, food processors and other tools of daily life, teaching English, arranging for vocational and educational opportunities, and subsidizing each household with a weekly stipend.
Then there’s fundraising (also my bailiwick), to make all this and more happen without beggaring us.
It’s a large commitment that will likely last a full year, and it’s filled with intrusions, worries, obsessions, and relational stuff. Yet even while groaning a lot, I’m finding the experience transformational in nice, quiet ways.
• I’m cultivating a sense that helping other people (and non-people) is a more direct path to well-being, at this stage of my life, than many of my other involvements, most of which — making art, for instance — keep me at a distance from people and far more involved with myself than my self deserves.
• Suddenly I’m involved, almost in a familial way, with people ranging in age from childhood to young adulthood to middle age. And I’m experiencing their sense, as forced emigrés, of profound loss — loss of their homes, their possessions, their status, their citizenship, their country, their culture, their careers, their friendships, their extended families. The experience evokes in me a fuller understanding of how privileged, how shaped by me, my entire life has been — which, in turn, is deepening my thinking about politics, about class, about social response-ability, about compassion and interconnectedness, about our tormented country.
• The obverse of relating to the Afghans’ devastating sense of loss is relating to their hopes and ambitions. These are very entrepreneurial people who generally view America as if it were truly the “land of opportunity.” Echoes of my immigrant ancestors! This, too, politically inspires me — not to straighten them out about modern America, but to work for the actual restoration of that “golden land,” about which I feel patriotic and nostalgic. (Yeah, I know about the many, many contradictions. . .)
So suddenly, at the age of 70, I’m wondering: What if I got up each morning thinking, “Who can I help today?” instead of “What do I want to do today?” or “What’s wrong with the world today?” How would it feel, what would I do, what would I write, and would I still have time and energy to make my art and cultivate my garden?
Below is a page from my new book, AMERICAN TORAH TOONS 2. The toon is titled “Atonement,” and it illustrates the Torah portion from Leviticus that defines Yom Kippur. If you’d like to help support our Afghan Circle, please make a contribution of $36 or more by clicking here, then email me (email@example.com) saying you’ve done so and I’ll mail you a free book. (Include your mailing address when you write to me!)
from American Torah Toons 2, by Lawrence Bush, just published by Ben Yehuda Press