The Day My Kids and I Were Tear Gassed

On Sunday, a group of migrants attempting to cross the US border were shot at with tear gas. An image of a mother fleeing with her children quickly went viral.

Immigration and border security are complex, nuanced issues. The people in this community—and on our team—hold diverse points of view. But it’s important to go beyond policy debates and also see the people standing in front of us. To recognize their dignity and worth—no matter what the politics of the situation may be.

I was in her shoes only a few years ago, but my story ended very differently.

I was out shopping in the local bazaar, a place we had been a hundred times before. It was one of the kids’ favorite things to do on the weekend. We were walking from the toy section across the street to the vegetable stands. Suddenly, a riot broke out in the square where we were standing. As the police began shooting tear gas, I ran into the alley, away from the crowd, dragging the kids with me. I desperately wanted to be anywhere else, anywhere safe for my kids.

As we ran by the onion and pumpkin stand, the men behind the counter called us into their shop and shuttered the doors behind us to keep out the gas. The kids were shaking, terrified, and had no idea what was going on. We could hear tear gas canisters pinging off the shutters outside. But inside this little market booth with aluminum doors drawn shut, these kind strangers were offering candy and sugar-filled tea to calm our nerves, protecting both our bodies and our hearts from harm.

About an hour later, they opened the shutters in the silence and went out to check if it was safe. I told them my car was across the street and they quickly recommended that I leave the car and take a taxi from the rear of the bazaar. Then they left their stall to see us safely to the taxi.

I live in one of the most war-torn countries of my lifetime. And in every time of fear or attack that I’ve experienced, a stranger has been there to care, console, and provide cover. My children have always been of their utmost concern.

So when I woke up to images of this immigrant mom looking for safety for her little ones, my heart broke. I wish she could be met with welcome, shutters closing out the dark, and sweet tea to calm her nerves. I wish she could say to her babies, “Look how nice everyone is here; look how they protect us even though they don’t know us.”

I wish someone would come alongside her and ask what she needs,  what she dreams for her family’s future.

This is the way of preemptive love, to meet the marginalized with kindness and compassion. To offer safety and refuge for the wounded, the hurting, the vulnerable. As individuals, we do not have to wait for political solutions or campaigns. We can choose to be the solution. We can cast aside assumptions and preconceptions and politics. We can look at the child, at the mother. We can love anyway.