This Syrian boy landing in Greece in September could be my father in his youth, in looks and circumstance.
In 1947, when my dad was 12, the British divided India, turning his home into Pakistan. Religious civil war consumed the new country. Muslims killed Hindus and Hindus killed Muslims, and he became a refugee.
I didn’t know his story until I was in my 20s. Visiting San Francisco for Christmas, he took us to dinner at Bix, a swank Financial District spot where we drank wine in a leather booth.
In that incongruous setting, he told us how he watched as a mob murdered his grandfather, and how, not yet a teenager, he fled alone across that nascent border. His parents found him in a camp in Ahmedabad, a city overrun by migrants like him, about 400 miles away.
They settled in India, but a few years later, he immigrated by himself to the United States, debarking at New York, heading to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
The tale seemed unconnected with the man I knew – an engineer with his own company, a guy who drove semis to Alaska for money to get through college and a card sharp who loved Friday-night poker with pizza and cigars when I was young.
When Neil Armstrong spoke his one-step line on the moon, ceramic radio parts my father made helped carry that message back to Earth. Some of his siblings followed him here, and among their children are a doctor, an environmental lawyer and a governor’s chief of staff.
But once, my dad was like an animal fleeing from fire.
We Americans are not the kind to barricade ourselves inside our borders, peeking fretfully at the world through curtains. To fear this boy is to fear good men like my father, to fear second-generation people like me, and to let anxiety corrode the fact that we are brave and free and tough enough to be generous with others.
I have children now, and it’s easy for me to wonder if letting kids like the one in this picture come here is a mistake. Is he a wolf in castaway clothes who will betray our collective heart with some homicidal act of terror?
It’s possible, but more probable that he’s just a boy like my dad was, traveling from chaos to uncertainty and needing kindness. As Sartre, a man imprisoned by Nazis, said, freedom is what we do with what is done to us.
So my holiday wish is that someday this young man finds himself sitting in an elegant restaurant in an adopted country he loves, maybe ours, with family that has only known peace, making this journey in his fragile dinghy seem unreal.
Anita Chabria is a freelance writer in Sacramento. Her most recent piece for The Bee, “Teaching girls love for the game, lessons for life,” appeared on Dec. 6. Contact her at email@example.com.