Sara is one of my favorite people.
She is probably the favorite person of everyone who has ever known her, being one of those people from whom sparks of life pop off like a Fourth of July sparkler. She has what the social pages might call “an infectious enthusiasm.” She also has a laugh that seems to originate from somewhere down near her toes, the kind of laugh that will save her from the grief of the social pages.
She was not in such good spirits the other day, however, when she asked if we could meet for coffee.
Sara looked as if she hadn’t slept in days. She looked like the essence of sadness, and this worried me. I asked after her husband (fine) and the children (good). And then I asked after her folks, who live in southern Tamaulipas, the Mexican state that borders Brownsville.
Her eyes filled with tears, and she sobbed. “My mom is dying,” she told me, “She is dying, and I don’t know what to do.”
I cursed, quietly, as I was all too familiar with this situation. Once again, a family tragedy had been made exponentially worse as it banged up against the lame-hearted, small-mindedness of our nation’s immigration politics.
Sara was in the midst of applying for residency in the United States, and she could not leave the area. If she crossed into Mexico, she would not be allowed back into the country. If she went to say farewell to her mom, she would, effectively, be saying farewell to her children, leaving them orphans, and to her husband, making of him, for all practical purposes, a widow.
Sara’s mom was dying and Sara couldn’t go give her a final blessing, Sara could not be with her mother to offer consolation during her last hours, Sara could not be with her mom as she died.
“My father,” Sara continued, “My father wants me to come and to be with him. He doesn’t understand why I can’t come, and he is furious with me. I don’t want him upset with me, not while my mom is dying. And my mom; I just don’t know what she must think of me.”
We spoke for a while more. We finished up our coffees. Sara looked a little bit better, though still so very sad. I told her that I would pray for her, not really knowing what that meant to her.
After Sara left me, I realized that she and I had actually been celebrating her mother’s last rites. The stories, the tears, the awful feeling of impotence in the face of death, and the sharing of that—that is what happens during last rites.
It was not enough by half, but it is what Sara could manage in this day and age, this woman who once upon a time, came to a strange land and founded her own family, leaving behind, once and forever, another family, which was her own as well.
Between these families, both deeply loved, flows a river. The river carries upon its back a boundary, which establishes the limits of a nation, and which is, as well, a barrier, upon which lies many a broken heart.