I am worried about my fellow citizens’ casual dismissal of the refugee’s humanity. So I have devised an experiment that may enhance their latent and lovely compassion. Here it is:
On the coldest afternoon in winter, take your youngest child or grandchild on your snowmobile. Drive to the most isolated place you know of, somewhere deep into the Spanish Peaks in Montana perhaps. When you have found this place, shut your engine to show your child the beauty of stars and silence.
At this point you will fumble and lose the key and cigarette lighter, and they will vanish into 10 feet of powder. Whether you lose these things or not is up to God of course, but I trust him to ensure that you are in the shoes of a refugee, a person who in his home town had a business, a job, friends, a drugstore coffee shop, a comfortable home, a house of worship, and a modicum of safety and happiness. And now he finds himself, like you, alone in a terrifying place, with this precious child, more important to him even than job, coffee shop, or home.
But there is a hope. You know about a cabin where you can find refuge until you are missed and someone comes looking for you. It is a struggle to get there, and you must carry the child, who trusts her da’ to make good things happen. You struggle through snow, but you have a destination and you have hope.
Hours later, you are exhausted; the child is whimpering with chill, but you have found your cabin refuge.
Steel bars lock every entrance because the proprietor fears bears or lost wanderers will get in and wreck his precious retreat. You feel despair.
But you cannot stop, and so you reassess. You are closer to civilization. There is a road from this cabin that might make travel easier. You know of a recluse family who lives near the edge of the forest along this road. You must hope. You must go on. Movement is the only safety in this cold.
Many hours later you are near collapse, the child is shuddering with cold, but you see lights. You have arrived at last where you will find succor and refuge, a cup of cocoa for the child, a warm fire.
You knock on the door. It cracks open. A suspicious brown eye peers out. You hear children playing and music. You smell roasting meat.
The voice behind the eye says, “go away.” The door closes.
You are a refugee.
(A version of this story appeared as a letter to the editor in the February 12, 2017 Bozeman Daily Chronicle)