*With a nod to the University of Texas:
The Eyes [in] Texas are upon you / All the live long day.
The Eyes [in] Texas are upon you / You cannot get away.
Before I started volunteering with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition helping asylum seekers at the San Antonio Greyhound station, I had a long administrative career. That job was starkly different from that of my husband, who is a surgeon. I always enjoyed hearing his medical perspectives and stories of his patient interactions, of his satisfaction in helping someone in need, of his front line connection with patients and their families. His clinical work was vastly different from my administrative work.
Three years ago I semi-retired, and since have been dedicating one day a week to our group’s work in caring for refugees at the bus station. We help them navigate the complex and scary transition from being in an immigration detention center to embarking on a multiday bus journey to unite with family somewhere in the United States. Usually they are penniless and bewildered. As a front line helper for these parents and kids, I found myself in a role similar to that of my “clinical” husband.
We literally do open our “clinic” once we have taken care of the refugees’ first priorities: making sure everyone has and understands their tickets, and distributing backpacks and lunches for their journeys. The “clinic” is a well-worn black rolling suitcase that holds plastic organizers of over-the-counter meds. The mainstays in our formulary are acetaminophen for headaches and inflammation, ginger tablets for nausea, pediatric meds for fever and cough, sore throat lozenges, and the highly appreciated Vicks VapoRub. It is very rewarding to be able to help relieve physical pain, and to reassure each nervous parent that we are able to do something for their child’s worrisome fever or cough. Our goal is to get them to their destination as safely and comfortably as possible.
But I have found that our role shares a deeper connection with the “clinical” world. My husband says that he immediately can assess his patients through their eyes. The sparkle, the energy, the life force, the aliveness of their spirit shows in their eyes, regardless of age or diagnosis. Post-operatively, his intuition of progress and prognosis is influenced by what he sees in the patient’s eyes. His years of experience have taught him to dig deeper and diagnose further when the patient’s eyes are dull, downcast, lackluster.
I have found the same to be true with the dozens of refugees I serve each week. Despite the grueling journey these mothers, fathers and children have made, many of them retain their sparkle and excitement for the safety and opportunities that lie ahead for them in the United States. I pray that their expectations come true. But sometimes I encounter a deep darkness and sadness in a parent’s eyes. Those moments jolt me in the middle of my routine, force me to stop, slow down, pay attention and take extra care with this particular person. I have heard horrific stories from refugees about the violence, threats, attacks and suffering they have endured at home and on their journey. It is not surprising that some of these desperate parents, and a few of the kids and teens are at the end of their emotional rope. I agree with my husband, you always can tell from the eyes.
I am proud to be part of this vital volunteer organization to serve asylum seekers who travel through the bus station. Each backpack, each dose of medicine, each bit of pocket money, each hug, and each eye-to-eye conversation lets them know that they are not alone, that there are Americans like YOU all over this nation who care deeply and welcome them, and that there’s reason for them to hope that the next chapter in their life will be better.