Whenever Fortune Says to Me

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Whenever fortune says to me, “You’re through…I contemplate on you.’ It’s a Fred Astaire song, brought to mind this sun-glittery morning because I just chatted with a friend in Massachusetts. His partner has a rare cancer, in remission now, no evidence of declining health, yet…

He and his partner, I’ll call them B. and J., want to visit Bolsano this November, that part of Italy not far from Austria. They’ve been there before in the summer. It’s almost like Switzerland in its mountains, and hiking/skiing, yet within a micro climate that allows palm trees to flourish in mild temperatures. What do the migrants from Syria have to say about this? Migrants whose enormous numbers have crowded the Salsburg, Austria, train station to the point that train travel has stopped.

Or for that matter, what do the migrants have to say to me as I contemplate landing in Florence, Italy, next week? Ever since I started routinely visiting Florence, I’ve encountered tall, beautifully tall, even elegant black men from Africa, who sell jewelry made in Africa to tourists. I have to remind myself that Africa is not a country, but a vast continent, so vast I sometimes forget how varied it is in climate, language, terrain–desert, mountains, croplands, forests, jungle, not to mention nomads, merchants in Morocco, terrorists in various countries in turmoil, well-run universities in Kenya and South Africa, communities stressed by wild animals interfering with their livestock, hunter/travelers paying a fortune to local guides for the privilege of shooting a trophy animal.

In Italy I am much closer to Africa than I am in Minnesota, though for the last decade, when I teach a mid-level writing class in a local college, almost every year, I teach students from Africa and Asia. Perhaps in the new future, there will also be students from the “near East.”

Are we doing enough as a country to help relieve this migrant crisis in the Middle East which is spilling over into Europe, which is bringing parts of Europe to a halt? How important is “business as usual” when thousands of lives are in peril?

I, for one, have rarely asked such a question, except when hurricanes have hit parts of the U.S. Then disaster becomes palpable–Hurricane Sandy so destructive that all hospitals in lower Manhattan had to evacuate their patients! I used to live within walking distance of Belleview Hospital.

I suspect that soon the migrant crisis in Europe and the Near East will become more palpable to us in the United States. Not only will our jaws drop at the thought of Germany’s willingness to house 800,000 or more migrants, but we will begin to grapple with what we can do. Yes we can send money to aid the organizations trying to feed and protect the enormous rivers of humanity flowing away from war and poverty. Soon, I predict, we will have to open our doors to them as well.

P.S. I just did a mental survey of my house. I have room. Whether I have the will is an entirely different matter. Maybe sooner than later, the question of my willingness will be answered by a pressure of need such as few of us can even imagine.

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