Oscar* and I sat down for breakfast. Usually, when asylum-seeking guests arrive, I try to take them to a restaurant with food from their country of origin, but this time breakfast was our only option. So, I introduced him to an iconic Atlanta diner, Waffle House. Oscar had his first taste of hashbrowns and loved them.
More than the meal, as we dined at this welcome table, I deeply listened to another guest seeking refuge from unknown and often unspeakable horrors. Oscar was no exception.
Oscar fled his home in South America. A truck driver by profession, one day, a group of heavily armed and masked men belonging to a guerilla group kidnapped him and other truckers, burning some of the vehicles. This act of unprovoked terror made international news. Eventually, Oscar was released, but this incident shook him to the core.
Oscar’s wife, Myrna*, was pregnant and expecting their first child during this traumatizing horror. They decided it was time to flee the danger and, along with it, everything that was familiar to them. They attempted to get passports together, but Myrna could not get hers because of a clerical error on her government-issued identification. The family had to make a hard choice.
With the child’s birth imminent, Myrna couldn’t travel the typical migrant route through the Panamanian jungle and up through Central America, but Oscar couldn’t risk staying any longer. So the couple made preparations for Oscar to seek asylum first. As Oscar made pre-migration arrangements, they welcomed their newborn son, Oscar Jr., into a world filled with peril and needing peace with justice.
As the waitress poured Oscar another cup of coffee, he pulled out his phone.
“I want to show you something,” he said.
This is the last photo I took with my son on my last day with him. He was only two weeks old.”
Scrolling through the images on his phone, he found what he was looking for and paused. With a lump in his throat and his eyes moistening with nostalgia and longing, he showed me his phone’s screen and said, “This is the last photo I took with my son on my last day with him. He was only two weeks old.”
The photo captured a father’s, tender love. Oscar cradled his son, giving the babe his full attention.
I held the phone and did not want to offer platitudes but wanted to speak words of empathy, solidarity, and consolation.
“It is so obvious you love your son. I can tell from how you are holding him, looking at him, and from the story of courageous love you’ve shared with me. My heart breaks with yours because I know no loving father wants to be separated from his children, least because of a world where we cannot protect ourselves and those we love.”
A tear rolled down Oscar’s face as I offered one final observation. I saw something holy in the image of this father lovingly holding his fragile child.
“Oscar, there’s also something else I see here. What if God is the loving parent, and you are a beloved child enfolded in God’s loving arms? The danger is still around you, but how does that change this image?”
Oscar looked at the photo again and took a sacred pause before saying softly, “I am not alone.”
*For security and privacy, all names have been changed.
Photo (not of Oscar and Oscar Jr.) by Petr Kratochvil