I am haunted by geese. At least the geese that fly over my apartment. I’ve heard geese before. They come often; flying overhead either because I live so close to a body of water or because their path happens to bring them above my own.
Geese (and many kinds of birds and insects) migrate when the seasons change and life is no longer sustainable. The conditions of the land, water, access to food—no longer looks good, nor does it supply their needs, so it’s in their nature to move on. Makes sense. And long before people tied themselves plots of lands and stationary shelters, they too followed food sources and favorable weather.
The geese that haunt me remind me of people everywhere who flee: dictators, drought, corruption, inflation and stagnant economies, gangs, drug traffickers, oppressive governments with ample stocks of military weapons. Of course, they are fleeing. They’ve watched the life drain out of their homelands. Drop by drop. Leaf by falling dead leaf off of what used to be a dense jungle forest. Their lives are at risk and they go, even if they don’t want to go.
They don’t want to be walking with their children: babies who should be having first birthday parties, elementary school kids now absent from classrooms where they were learning arithmetic a few weeks ago, and teenagers who should be dreaming of leaving their mark on the world rather than how to stay alive for one. More. Day.
Life for them is that bad.
It’s no wonder they run. A spouse shot in the street. A young man peacefully demonstrating loses an eye to a tear gas canister. One man paralyzed and living in a wheelchair because he walked along the wrong street on his way to work and was shot by the police. Why, we should be asking, would they stay? Why would they stay when violence wins and foreign political and economical powers uphold a dictator?
These are not terrorists, they are terrified.
A year ago to the date (minus a delay for edits and posting), I stood on roadsides in Honduras. I stood with people who—after watching their country fall apart and an election fraudulently stolen—could not stay silent any longer. Even if it meant physical harm, intimidation, or jail time. Did it make a difference? I don’t know. He was still inaugurated. Were our new friends kept safe? At least for a few more days.
This is the reality of Honduras but it’s not all that unique. Other countries and cultures are struggling adding only more numbers and more feet anxiously fleeing looking for life. When they flee, they do so because there is a chance that the unknown road north might be safer and more livable than the terrifying reality of home.
And so my heart breaks.
Every time I hear the geese go by I wonder who has left home, with a bag slung over their shoulder and a child in hand. Their journeys haunt me too.
Will we listen? Will we welcome?
P.S. thanks to the rev. abby mohaupt for her input and wisdom on this piece.
P.P.S. thanks to Matt Nienhuis for lending his images of geese. You can follow some of his brilliant photography on Instagram @fstoptories.