These days I’m reminded of the book Obasan written by Joy Kogawa that was required reading for an English Literature course that I was enrolled in. The book explored how one family was impacted by the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II.
Kogawa’s story impacted me greatly. It was the first time that I was confronted with the reality that perhaps Canada wasn’t as perfect as I had been taught.
I’m reminded of that book these days as I see people responding out of fear and calling on our government to stop bringing in Syrian refugees. As hateful comments appear in public spaces, I’m seeing just how easy it is to slip into a kind of mindset that creates an environment that makes it acceptable to intern groups of people like the Japanese, Hungarian and German people during the World Wars.
As current world events unfold, I have to admit I am afraid. I’m scared of bullets and bombs and of violence. I’m scared of a war that involves the entire world and throws life as I know it into complete chaos. But what scares me more is that in the midst of it all we will lose our capacity for compassion and care.
What scares me more than bombs and beheadings is that we will treat each other as foe rather than potential friend. What scares me most is that we will allow fear to drive us to turning our backs on genuine need because we are so busy worrying about our own safety and security. What scares me most is that we will create a world where our children and grandchildren when finding themselves in need will not be able to reach out to others for help.
In 1939, a boatload of Jews set sail for North America looking for safety and security, only to be turned away by several countries before returning to Europe where almost one third of them were killed by the ones they were fleeing from in the first place.
I’m hoping that we can learn something from our shady past.
I’m praying a lot these days. I’m praying for those who find their lives turned upside down by war, bombs and violence. And while I’m praying that those I love remain safe and secure I’m also praying that hearts and minds are open in the midst of fear so that love and compassion for all others may flourish.
 Kogawa, Joy. Obasan. Markham, ON: Penguin Books, 1983.