Although he was seated in my car, and the air conditioning was working well, the German reporter’s face was beet-red, and he was huffing and puffing in a way that made me nervous. While he had been out and about in the heat of a Brownsville September afternoon, his physical distress was coming from within. He was perplexed and sad and angry.
We had been talking about the way the United States had responded to the plight of the tens of thousands of Central American children who had come to south Texas this summer, seeking refuge from the violence that had recently devoured their futures. I had begun to share my concerns that, now that the USA was “rocket docketing” these children, that they would stop turning themselves into the Border Patrol, or US Customs and would, instead, risk a journey through the desert. That is a horrible, horrible place to die, I told him.
The reporter sighed deeply and said, “How is it that we no longer have. . .I cannot think of the English word. In German we call it something like ‘heart-brimming-over-brokenness’–Barmherzigkeit, you know, that which the Good Samaritan felt.”
“You mean ‘mercy and compassion’?” I offered. Yes, he said, that was what he meant.
We spoke for a while about how fear makes such scarce commodities of mercy and compassion, and how human beings are so vulnerable to anxiety.
We had gone to see a bit of the border wall, and the reporter had taken the dutiful picture of the sign that says “We Don’t Need a Border Fence!”, while just across the road, a border patrol truck idled, and, just down the way, several tents belonging to militia members flapped in the breeze.
As we drove along, he said to me, “You know, we Germans had the Berlin Wall. And it was a serious thing, with machine guns and land mines. And it did not work. It did not make us less afraid. It made us lesser people.”