This summer, one of the things I found myself doing with my younger brother was going to this local pizza place in Swannanoa where they had a foosball table and good pizza/subs/wings. Miles and I would sit down, decide what we wanted to eat which was usually sharing a Cuban sandwich, order, and then immediately go play foosball. We would play many games before our food came and after before heading back to our normal summer lives. I didn’t realize how important that time was with my brother until I was leaving NC and started missing him when I got to Arizona. It was a chance for us to just play, have a little friendly sibling competition. It was a time for me to just spend time with a great not-so-little brother and catch up with him.
When I arrived at The Inn for the first time, one of the first things I noticed was a foosball table. There were kids playing at the table. When families arrive here, often the first things the kids notice is the table/people playing foosball. Their eyes light up and they run over to the table immediately to join a game/start playing. The other day I watched a dad who arrived at The Inn half an hour earlier walk around while singing a lullaby to his infant who was falling asleep on his shoulder. As soon as the baby fell asleep and was placed on a bed, the dad ran over to the foosball table and joined a game with some older kids and another dad. A few minutes later, his wife came up and reminded him that he should go shower while the baby was sleeping. The dad reluctantly went to go shower.
Over the past few months here, I have seen how this table is a source of joy for so many people of all ages. Every day there are kids playing constantly for most of the day. Occasionally parents in the evenings will kick the kids “out” (away from the table) so that they can have an adult-only game. Usually, moms vs. dads is how that works out with the kids cheering around their parents. On the day I wrote this, December, 16th, two moms, a dad, and three kids were playing a game. Hearing the laughter, seeing the smiles, feeling the excitement in the room from other kids watching, was something very life-giving for my Monday.
For Christians, “the table” is a very important concept. We are referring to the communion table. For almost as long as I can remember, I have been taught that the table is open for everyone. The table extends past all boundaries and is a place for conversation, peace, fulfillment, and the joy of the love of God. At The Inn, I get to witness this table, a foosball table, welcoming people of all ages. When a six-year-old invites a four-year-old to play by pulling up a little chair for the smaller human to stand on so they can reach the handles, I see the table in a different context and setting.
Playing with Miles this Summer was an easy way to pause, breathe, reconnect with my brother, and just play. It provided me time to not think about my work schedule, moving across the country at the end of the summer, drama, or other stressors in my life. I could just be. Watching people of all ages play, laugh, cheer, and be together over this table at the Inn is truly special to see. It is always fascinating to see other forms of God’s table being extended. At the table, we receive nourishment in the form of bread and wine (or grape juice). At the foosball table, folks are nourished by finding joy in a hard place on their journeys.
“¿Estará mi hermana allí?” I was in the car driving a mom and her daughter from another shelter to The Inn. “¡Sí! Tu hermana, y hermano, tu otra hermana y todos sus hijos” I responded looking back to see the mother propping up her sleeping toddler’s head. For the past three days, we had been trying to piece together this family of four siblings traveling with their children. This sister and her child was the last piece to the familial puzzle. We knew that the mother was set to be processed by and released from I.C.E. today, and even though the director of The Inn texted an I.C.E. agent and asked for her to be sent to us instead of the other shelter that did not have the rest of her family, that didn’t happen.
As we pulled up, the brother and a sister along with a three-year-old nephew were waiting at the top of the steps for their sister and niece. The mom’s eyes lit up as she saw familiar faces. She gently started moving as to not wake her daughter as she prepared to get out of the car. I got out of the car and opened the back seat door so the uncle and aunt could get their niece out before proceeding to open the trunk to help with bags. The little girl was still asleep as her aunt picked her up and placed her on her shoulder, but then her eyes bolted open and she noticed who was holding her and she started to give her aunt a big hug. The mom walked around the car and immediately started crying with her brother as they wrapped themselves in a hug.
We all started going downstairs where the other sister, the sister-in-law, and all the nieces and nephews in this family came up to greet their family. After many days, this family was finally all together and they could be on their way to their family further in the U.S. This had been a long journey with a lot of miscommunication and disappointment. It was wonderful and so beautiful to watch this family be reunited but this usually doesn’t happen.
Something that has been difficult for me to grasp during my time at The Inn has been how we, The United States, defines family especially when it comes to migrant families seeking asylum in the U.S. Large, extended families like this one are often separated. From what I have seen at The Inn, family units with a mom, dad, and child(ren) are often released to Non-Governmental Organizations like The Inn, but when a pregnant woman and her husband are processed, they don’t count as a family. The father/husband is sent to detention and we will only receive the pregnant woman. Extended families usually aren’t released together even if they are going to the same sponsor in the U.S. That is why it took so many days to gather together this one family, and luckily none of the families were sent to a family detention center.
It was so heartwarming to get to see these siblings and cousins reunite with each other, but I recognize that they shouldn’t have been separated from each other in the first place. With Thanksgiving coming up next week, I can’t help but think about and mourn for all the families who won’t be together, specifically migrants and migrant families who are being separated from siblings, children, parents, etc. by the U.S. government while a lot of Americans will be celebrating with and giving thanks for family. This is upsetting to think about and I am challenging myself to sit in the anger and frustration over the separation of families, while also actively voicing how this is wrong. If I don’t say anything, I am continuing the cycle of normalizing something wrong and harmful.