The other thing that had my attention was a set of posters in Sister Kathleen’s room. You cannot imagine how important classroom posters were in the days before cellphones. You would be out of your mind with boredom, and you’d just gaze at them for hours. She had eight posters on her wall: the Beatitudes. I doubt I even knew that they had come from the Sermon on the Mount, or whether I even knew what the Sermon on the Mount was. All I knew was that I was a desperately unhappy person, and that the words on these posters were turning everything I believed on its head.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth;
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
What can I tell you? I drifted. I floated over. On some level, I just abandoned the rational world and found my place elsewhere; maybe I was already there and just hadn’t known it. My parents weren’t happy about it, but what could they do? They’d wanted private-school education on the cheap, and you get what you pay for.
All of this came back to me this morning as I read the first draft of this essay, which was nothing about the little Catholic school in Berkeley and all about how smart I am and how angry I feel right now. The subject of my anger is the wretched conditions the migrant children are enduring in the camps, and the display of my intelligence was a sophisticated reading of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every single member of the United Nations is a party to the convention except … the United States. I had a lot to say about that. I had a great rant going, and it included a strong set of highly tweetable lines. I was already imagining myself talking about it on the radio and sounding like a very, very good person.
Read: “Children were dirty, they were scared, and they were hungry”
But then: Blessed are the meek.
The children are meek. The ones told to comb out one another’s lice and go to sleep hungry on cold floors under bright lights; the ones who have no one—no one at all, save one another—to comfort them. So I was on sound territory there. But the Beatitudes come at you sideways sometimes, and that’s when you’re really in trouble. It occurred to me this morning that maybe as a Christian I’m also supposed to be meek. To be humble.
I never should have agreed to go to that school.
I humbly reach out to the only faction of Americans I know of who have the ear of the administration and who care about children: my brothers and sisters in Christ who attend evangelical churches. It seems clear that we are in the midst of a profound humanitarian crisis and that children are being forced to suffer in terrible ways. Maybe it was never supposed to be this way; maybe the system just got overwhelmed. But this is a disaster. Children are programmed to think that any separation from a parent or a caregiver is a life-or-death situation. I keep imagining one of these children having a dream that he’s home, with his mother and brothers and sisters, but then waking up to see he’s still in a terrible place. If evangelical Christians stood up for these children, things could change in the camps very quickly.