All this week I have been crossing borders. So many. The hardest border was across an airplane seat-----but the longest border was in Tijuana. It was just Duncan and I, the two of us on spring break together (Really? Like real grownups?) Driving into Mexico at the San Ysidro border, through San Diego, wasn't even a blink. No stop. We had our passports in hand and no one was there to stop us anywhere. We were in the U.S. one moment, then driving along the border wall the next and there we were.
Coming back wasn't so easy. It took three and a half hours of idling, in a snaking line, waving off gentle peddlers with serapes, aprons and churros at our windows. Waiting for border guards to pull off panels from a truck in front of us.
"Is it this busy because of Spring break"? my husband asked a border patrol guard along the way who looked friendly.
"It's always like this," he said. 'It's the busiest land port of entry in the world." Later I look it up. 70,000 northbound cars and 20,000 pedestrians cross every day. I’ve crossed borders in more countries than I have counted, and never like this.
But the hardest border crossing was the closest. I was in the dreaded middle seat on a flight from Seattle to California. A small woman with a cane sat against the window. I buried my head in my computer, for so many reasons. It's exhausting talking to a stranger two inches away. And always the book deadlines. But somewhere over Oregon I spoke. I don't remember what I said, but we ended up talking for over an hour.
*Sally was a recovering alcoholic and meth addict. "I've been clean for four years," she said smiling. Her face showed the wear.
"Congratulations!" I cannot imagine the difficulty of this. And I find out that Sally has MS, diagnosed 15 years ago. And there is more. She is recovering from brain surgery.
We talk about her disease, her surgery, our children, her father. We talk about God. Sally lights up.
"That's why I'm alive. I wouldn't be here today without God. He's saved me so many times. The aneurysm should have killed me."
At some point, she takes my hand and guides it to the back of her head.
"Do you feel that lump? That's from the surgery."
I cringe with her hand on mine, then my hand behind her head feeling the lump. This is a border I didn't want to cross. Ever. But here I am. Near the end of the flight, when she finds out I'm a writer, Sally tells me, "You can tell my story. I want people to know how good God has been to me."
A few days later I am in line at a Starbucks. A young latino man skips in line behind me. He speaks to me almost without taking a breath.
"Hi, oh it's a beautiful day, and I'm so happy to be alive, aren't you? I mean look at this, we're all here, alive in this place," and he gestures to the 30 or so people with coffee in hand, poring over phones and books.
"Yes, I'm happy to be alive too," I smile back. I too have felt this, suddenly looking around wondering if anyone notices that we're all breathing and having these moments together in this place.
"My name is Angel and I want to be an angel. What if everyone here was an angel?"
And off we go into a weird labrynth of conversation I cannot begin to recall. The line is long and we talk a long time. I think Angel is manic or high right now, but God is here anyway. We talk of heaven. How we should be grateful for every moment of life. Now he is telling me his favorite book of the Bible and I'm saying mine when a grizzled man in a yellow t-shirt and red hat passes us.
"I read my Bible every morning. You gotta read your Bible," he admonishes us as he passes holding a bag he pulled from the trash.
Behind us stands a 6'5" African-American man in a tight beige miniskirt and a long red wig. He smiles at me as I turn. I smile back. I would love to talk with him, to hear his story.
I order my coffee and pay with a gift card and wait. Behind me, Angel orders. "Just water please."
I'm about to walk away and I can't. Someone gave me the coffee card I'm using. I know it's not just for me.
"Angel, order a coffee, whatever you like."
"Really? Are you sure?" After, with his iced coffee in hand he asks, "Why did you do that?"
"Because Jesus would."
Some flights and some days I'm cranky. Sometimes I build a Trump-sized wall around myself. Sometimes I need to. But when I pull the wall down, one small word at a time, I have found people who need to be seen and heard. Who maybe need a coffee and even a hand behind their head to feel the lump. And in those minutes, whether we find our way to God or not, I am (mostly) happy. Because Angel is right. Here we are all alive together and breathing together, all of us created in the image of an incredible God and maybe if we cross the borders past our own thick skin, we can bless one another? I need it as much as they do.
Many in our country want to build more border walls. I want to tear mine down.
Dear Friends——Have you torn down a piece of a wall lately? Would you bless us all and tell us about it?