Thoughts on Migrants and Life
A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. —Isaiah 40:6-8
In my native Pacific Islander context, flowers play a major role in the ceremonial life of the community. Sewn into a beautiful garland, it is then offered as a mark of honor to the receiver, who receives it with humility, acknowledging that the honor represented by the flower is not a possession but a gift that is given and shared in this system of communal accountability where everyone plays a role. The Tongan proverb “ko e kakala pe,” or, “it is only flower,” confirms this notion of impermanence, reminding the community that just as the beauty of the flower fades, so does the beauty of life when honor and privilege are not used as gifts that are meant to be given from one to the other as flowers are shared.
We live in a world where people and sociopolitical systems have an absolute sense of entitlement to honor and privilege. Countries of the global north declare through their actions and policies that honor and privilege are their birthrights. People of a certain color and origin possess privilege and refuse to share it. The socioeconomic realities of the world affirm this notion of entitlement where the rich continue to get richer and the poor and disenfranchised fall deeper into poverty and injustice. In a desperate attempt to free themselves from this vicious circle, migrants, immigrants, and other displaced people take to the road to find life. But, of course, they are seen as mere commodities and are denied honor, respect, dignity, privilege and other all the basic rights of life. Indeed the beauty of the flower fades; it has become a rather ugly world.
And yet Isaiah’s words ring with hope: Shout that people are like grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord. And so it is with people. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever. Isaiah reminds us of our impermanent status in this world. This is an alarming yet refreshing reminder in a world that is preoccupied with “status.” Whether we like it or not, we are all migrants into this world, all with impermanent status. There are no permanent residents in this world. After all, “it is only flower.”
Our redemption lies in accepting this gift of life and rather than possessing it, sharing it. The realization that life is a gift frees us from our sense of entitlement and moves us into action that is borne out of gratitude. There is an urgency that calls us into action, as life fades easily. In sharing our lives, we will share the pain and agony of more than 220 million migrants and immigrants worldwide. Herein lies the greatest mystery of life, for as Isaiah reminds us, “the word of our God will stand forever,” and we hear those reassuring words “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
This Advent season as we wait with anticipation to see the Christ child, may we celebrate our migrant status by sharing our lives. For in doing so, we will indeed see the Christ child in the migrant, immigrant, displaced, and in one another.
Monalisa Tuitahi is a delegate to Geneva with the General Board of Global Ministries to the People's Global Action on Migration, Development, and Human Rights (PGA) in Geneva, Switzerland, from November 28 to December 2, 2011, as part of the mission agency's focus on global migration and poverty.