Walking with the Dead
(Photo provided by El Camino Del Inmigrante)
This blog post is the second in a series of three posts dedicated to Marie Moy’s participation in the El Camino Del Inmigrante pilgrimage held August 20-30, 2016. Her first post reflects on her decision and calling to participate in this pilgrimage.
The two beautiful, vivacious women who I had been walking with were now silent. I had been looking forward to spending time with them, and sharing as we walked, but they both received a text, and would remain silent for the rest of the day. The text read:
1 of 3 immigrants who attempt to cross the desert in search of a better life doesn’t make it. Today you represent one of those who died. Take a moment today to reflect on the weight of this reality. You can choose, in solidarity, to remain silent until the debrief session tonight or to announce your death to surrounding Camino participants. Buen Camino.
I accompanied them for at least an hour, and as I walked I mourned the loss of life. Most of those who die succumb to either dehydration or exposure to the extreme temperatures of the heat during the day or the cold at night in the desert. How would it feel to actually leave a fellow traveler behind? Those who have to move on must certainly be left traumatized, and face the reality of her or his own potential demise.
I mourned the loss of each person’s future, relationships, and accomplishments. Beyond their momentary passing there was even more collateral damage. Like a ripple effect, the impact of their deaths radiated out touching their families, loved ones, acquaintances, work places, and communities. When cut off, each human life leaves behind an indelible mark on those he or she touched, which over time, like a scar, lightens, but never completely goes away.
I mourned the loss of humanity. Jaded by the never-ending reports of violence, war, and natural disaster, each of has to find a way to cope and move on with our lives; afraid that if we stop to look at the horror too long we will be immobilized by pain and irresolution. I wrestled with the question, “When did life become so cheap?”
Like so many other monumental questions, the answer leads us back to the beginning. Genesis 4 describes enmity between Eve’s sons. Cain was very angry when God had regard for Abel’s offering and not his own, and as a result he killed Abel. Yet, even before the two were born, their parents risked their own lives to eat what had been forbidden (Genesis 3). From the very beginning human beings had low regard for their own lives, and the lives of others.
As I walked with the women, in my mind I searched for answers, and I dialoged with God. Mentally disoriented by the juxtaposition of the beauty of my surroundings and the affluence of those who occupied that space, and the “death” of the pilgrims, I sought to understand how my actions and those of my fellow Americans were complicit in the deaths of so many real sojourners that cross borders all around the world.
When God confronted Cain about his brother, “the LORD said, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!’” (Genesis 4:10 NRSV). What are our consequences for so many callous deaths? It is not enough to abdicate responsibility like Cain about the loss of life of so many women, men, and children. Not only do we have the responsibility to provide refuge to the oppressed, but also we have to repent from our culpability in their demise in the first place.
Step after step in silence I was tied to the reality of my life and the others’ loss. The internal anguish forced me to examine my heart, and confess my selfishness and tendency to mindlessly consume at another’s expense. As imago Dei, I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper.
I’m so grateful for the women’s company, the opportunity to appreciate them, and be touched by their lives and deaths. I don’t know if our time together was intentional, or just the syncopated rhythm of our paces at the time. I hope that they were comforted by my presence in their own times of reflection. I know that it will be a moment that will not soon be forgotten.
Marie Moy completed the Master of Arts in Theology and Social Justice at Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College in May 2015. She serves in the city of Buffalo through Jericho Road Community Health Center and Renovation Church. Marie is passionate about Christian community development, and works with like-minded individuals and organizations to holistically restore communities.