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A Mormon Visitation

 

It was a quiet Sunday. I'd just returned from a hike and had stepped out of the shower, barely dressed, hair dripping, Jim watching the French Open, when there was a loud bang on the door. We have no doorbells here which, in itself, is anomalous. There is a small peephole, however, but I usually have to wait until my heart stops pounding to use it. That takes a breath or two.


Jim, under the headset, tennis balls cracking away, hadn't heard much. "Who's there?" was all he managed. I looked through the peephole at the distorted image of two individuals, probably male, I decided, dressed in white shirts and dark pants. For some reason—maybe remnants of my still functioning urban self—I intuited these individuals had no intent to harm. I opened the door.


"Oh, Mormons," I said.


"That's what some people call us," the young man on the left said. He did not seem pleased and his partner was not pleased with him. I assumed he was in training; this was a training session. He slunk back as the bigger, older guy took the lead.


I think he called me "Ma'am." He clutched a Bible, rich with uncorroborated stories from my journalistic point of view. "Written by man or God?" I asked.


No answer.


Mormon #2 was also carrying an iPad. I think they'd found their way to our somewhat isolated apartment complex using Google Maps. They hadn't come far—there's a Mormon church less than half a mile away, but they'd already been in the mid-Hudson valley for nine months and surely knew their way around, knew that holding out a Bible, metaphorically speaking, half a mile from the university wasn't going to play too well.


"How's the proselytizing going?" I asked.


I really wanted to know. Was it going well, or not well?


"Could you recommend a place for us to go in town where folks might be more receptive," the younger one asked.


"I think you'll find the citizens of this town hard work," I told him. "There are some religious folks, of course, but mostly I think you'll find it hard work."


I wanted to spare him disappointment. He was so young, so eager. After nine months in the vicinity he was still struggling, it seemed.


"I worked in Newark before I came up here," the older one said. "I loved the city. Brazilian community. Portuguese. That's why my tag says Jesus Cristo." And he pointed to the tag that sat right over his heart, white lettering on a black background to match his Sunday church and proselytize—after—church outfit.


I enjoy gentility and evangelical gentility is no exception. These young men were polite—misguided, sheltered, hopelessly naive, barely educated, but polite. Those are the judgmental thoughts that ran through my head. I wondered where they stood on abortion rights, on polygamy, police brutality. I wondered how they voted, or if they voted, or if they noticed or cared that the Wallkill River is polluted. Answers to my questions would have taken hours; they had to move on. Strangely, I thought, they hadn't asked any questions about me. I guess they knew from my slightly disheveled appearance and teasing sarcasm that I was past redemption.


"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," I said, determined to correct myself before their departure. "Apologies for calling you Mormons. What we call ourselves as opposed to what others choose to call us is important." Then I remembered that their presence on my doorstep was, truly, a blessing. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Our much beleaguered Constitution is still alive.

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My American Passport

Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.

--Abraham Lincoln

I was in the laundromat piling my wet clothes into the dryer when Ricardo began to talk to me. I’ve changed his name to protect his identity because he is an undocumented immigrant who has lived in the United States for more than twenty years, married and raised his children here, and has rarely, if ever, missed a day of work. He deals with the neighborhood’s dirty laundry all day long, washing, drying and folding it neatly into multi-colored bags. His English is rudimentary. He is paid less than minimum wage. He doesn’t complain because he is undocumented. He hadn’t seen his parents in more than ten years when, in desperation, he snuck over the border last summer and spent all of his savings on a coyote to bring him back.

More than one of my neighbors help Ricardo with his English. He has a new workbook; between cycles, he studies. He has always wanted to better himself. He has always worked. His children are “dreamers,” and have all attended college. He calls me “Teacher.” “Teacher,” he began. “Teacher, I am afraid. What will happen with this new president?” I showed him the safety pin on my hat and tried to explain. I said, “This pin means you are safe with me.” I wrote down the words “sanctuary city” in my small pocket notebook, ripped out the page and handed it to him. How would this scrap of paper help? I told him about my refugee parents, but as soon as I began to speak, I knew that it was not an analogous story. Despite the traumas of war and the unconscionable losses of a genocide, my parents were granted immediate legal residency and became naturalized citizens. The disruption in their lives eased and their children were born Americans. To carry an American passport became an emblem of safety and opportunity. I am glad they are not alive to witness President Trump’s draconian, inhumane executive immigration orders .

I have not been everywhere with my American passport, but I have friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues from everywhere. Some have two passports or green cards and lead trans-national lives, yet they, too, now feel endangered. Overseas students at NYU with legal visas have been urged not to leave the country as they may not be granted entry upon return. It is not at all clear if our “dreamer” students will be harassed or their parents deported. Much as we would like to say we are a sanctuary campus, there are no guarantees. A Palestinian-American friend, who has been a citizen for a long time, is having strange dreams: “Carol, I had a dream last night. Hundreds of coyotes were running after Trump attacking him. He was crying furiously and I woke up shaking.” I was pleased he wrote the dream down because it became a story. The beginning of a memoir, perhaps. His family was displaced in 1948 by the formation of the State of Israel and he has a story to tell, a good story, an American-Palestinian story.

There is so much work to do for all of us: daily phone calls, marches, other political actions. But this is all good. We’ve come alive to our responsibilities as citizens and patriots. Read More 
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