Everywhere I hear or see tragic news. A colleague with young children was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A soldier’s family deals with the loss of their father and husband after a suicide bomb in Afghanistan. Political figures bicker and fight. Young children go without food during the holiday. Bad things have been happening since before Christ which is why, I reckon, the human race needed to create the Christmas story as we now know it. For me, the transformative give of Christmas is this: no matter how much bad is going on and no matter how much wrong I have created through my own actions, the power of love is still available right this minute. And, to participate in that love is to transcend the negativity that humans have been perpetuating since we were conceived. Let love reign!
The weekend after Thanksgiving I traveled with a friend to Williamsburg. We wanted to see the lights of historic Williamsburg and at Christmas Town, in Busch Gardens. We thoroughly enjoyed walking up Duke of Gloucester Street after dark on Friday night and were able to clock three miles of physical activity while enjoying the decorations on the houses and shops of Colonial Williamsburg. There was even an ice skating rink at Merchant Square.
On Saturday, before going to Busch Gardens, we decided to go to the visitor center, just off the parkway, and watch the film that orients a newcomer to Colonial Williamsburg. The movie, The Patriot, is the longest continuously running motion picture in the United States. Its principle character is John Frye, a colonial planter, who is elected to the House of Burgesses and then to the General Assembly. Early in his career he meets Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Randolph and others who helped navigate Virginia’s response to the Boston Tea Party and frame the origins of the political landscape in Virginia and America.
John Frye considered himself an Englishman and resisted the pull of separating from the King. Not only did he enjoy the culture and traditions of life inherited from the English but he and his family enjoyed tea, wine, fine china and linens. Eventually, however, he saw that in order for his children to live free, as he had enjoyed, it would be necessary to establish a government that was subject only to its own laws. He also understood that to do so would require Virginia to collaborate with other colonies for military strength and for the long-term welfare of each colony. The tyranny of Britain could be overthrown by a coordinated strategy of the colonies and the colonies of the New World could thrive under the leadership of a coordinated government grounded in the principles valued by the peoples in the colonies.
It occurred to me that now, like then, we the people of the United States, may need to let go of a few of our closely held beliefs or habits to overcome the tyrannies we are experiencing. The greatest threat to our freedom, now, seems to me to be fear stoked by absolutism, at home and abroad. Each of us is called, as was John Frye, to examine what we hold so dear that it disables us from collaborating in those efforts that support the definition of freedom for all.
Since there is a flurry of mis-information circulating about refugee related issues, I feel compelled to disclose some facts, as a physician. Communicable disease prevention has always been the cornerstone for screening, admitting and settling refugees in the United States. Each year the president sets a target quota for the number of refugees who will be allowed into the United States. The total number of refugees allowed into America, annually, would fill Lane Stadium or the Redskins stadium. Based on capacity, refugees are assigned to resettlement communities across the country. Each state has a system of services developed to assure the successful settlement and integration of refugees into our society. In Virginia, the Department of Social Services is tasked with the oversight of refugee resettlement for approximately 2400 people who come to Virginia and, in southwest Virginia, Commonwealth Catholic Charities is the primary provider of services required to successfully assimilate refugees and asylees into the United States. Each locality, in turn, has a local system of care where refugees are shepherded into their new life, counseled and held accountable to become self-sufficient within six months after entry into America. In 2015, 200 refugees settled in southwest Virginia.
A refugee is a person who a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. An asylee is a person who is seeking or has been granted political asylum. These immigrants must apply for acceptance as a refugee or asylee and many apply to multiple countries in order to escape the harsh realities of their lives. Each country has a system of screening and processing. Our process, in the U.S., is very thorough and aims to assure successful entry and assimilation for individuals and families. Each applicant undergoes a year and a half background investigation, first, and is then screened for other parameters, including health. In southwest Virginia, the receiving communities have benefited mightily by an influx of talent from all over the world and from the tremendous surge of volunteerism in support of those persons who are selected to settle here.
As a physician who has assessed thousands of incoming refugees and asylees from all over the world, I cannot think of one that I would not want as my neighbor.