Friday, January 15, 2010

The Golden Door by Jaye Lewis

Hello friends,

Yesterday I had the honor of being published on Heartwarmers, the original online community of writers and readers on the web. I received some lovely responses to my story, many that truly touched my heart. Until this morning.

My story is basically about my trip to Miami, Florida, years ago, when I was a finalist in the Pillsbury Bake-off. It was thrilling, and I did win one of the prizes. However my greatest gift was the joyful response I received from the Cuban waiters, laundresses, and room cleaners. The only thing I did was speak to them with my rusty high school Spanish, out of respect for their struggles with our language, in their new country.

Well, this morning I received an email, in which a woman told me how un-American I was, since those people should have spoken English, not Spanish. Then she told me that she frequently went to France, where she did NOT speak English. She always TRIED to speak French, because she was in THEIR country! Then she told me that I was a disgrace to this country and a traitor, because I had betrayed those who died to make us free.

I gathered from her email, and her language, that I should have been just as rude and unfeeling as those who sat around me, ignoring the Cuban servers, as though they didn’t exist. So, this thought got me to wondering. Is this woman a Christian? Does she believe in anything, other than her own hatred?

Let’s suppose she is a Christian who warms a bench on Sunday morning. If she is, my guess is that she has heard of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Does the parable make it clear that the Samaritan shook the injured man out of his stupor, then asked him, “can you speak Samaritan?” Did he walk away, because the man wasn’t one of his people? No. As Jesus said, the Samaritan was filled with compassion for the man, neither caring who nor what he was, but merely having mercy upon his plight. Then Jesus said, to all of us, “Go, and do likewise.”

Maybe she does not have faith in anything or anyone, except for her zeal for her country. Maybe her allegiance is grounded in the flag and her unfortunate view of those who take refuge in this country. I wonder if she has forgotten, or ever read, the words of Emma Lazarus’ immortal poem, which is written on a plaque at the base of our Statue of Liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

That is the spirit of America. That is the spirit of the parable of the Good Samaritan. And so, in my limited way, with compassion in my heart for a legal immigrant, remembering that I, too, am the descendent of immigrants, I haltingly spoke the language of their childhood, to make them feel welcome. That is my sin. That is my shame. How horrible.

How does she know the Cubans did not know our language? If she can learn French, speaking another language, instead of English on American soil, then why can’t I or they? If I have learned anything in my life, I have learned this: that she, with a stone for a heart, wrote words in her email, that speak more about her, than they speak about me.

Did it hurt me, that she called me a traitor? Of course it did. I have ancestors that fought in the Revolutionary War for Independence. I have an ancestor who fought in the Civil War and was wounded at the Battle of Antietam. An elderly uncle of mine fought in the First World War. My father and uncles and cousins fought in the Korean War and World War II. I am a veteran of the Vietnam War. I proudly served in the United States Navy. My husband is a U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer, retired. We have all served our country, honorably. So, when this lady calls someone a traitor, maybe she should learn more about whom she dishonors with her words.

Does she resent the aid given to Haiti? Does she resent the outpouring of the American spirit, so generously given, that phone lines, web sites, phone texting, and every other legitimate form of giving was in a log jam, because Americans would not hesitate to give with their hearts and their pocket books? People who do not have, gave. People who are afraid they will lose all they have, gave. And those of us who have been blessed with abundance, gave.

I’m proud to be an American. I’m proud to stand with those who served, and who serve now, in the U.S. Military, so that everything we love can remain free. In spite of that, I am profoundly aware that the full spirit of America is the compassionate outpouring of generosity from all of us, which has always been the heart and soul of America. That spirit is the power which lifts the Lady’s Lamp above the Golden Door.

God bless you, and thank you all.

With love,
Jaye Lewis

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