birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

How Much Does a Wall Cost?

The last two years of my mother’s life were spent in an assisted living facility. Many of the workers who took care of her were from Africa, several were Muslim, and a few were from Mexico. They escorted her to meals, assisted her in the bathroom, and helped dress and bathe her. A few of the women spent their break time rolling my mother’s hair in curlers so that she would feel pretty. One young man would come in to work on his day off to spend time with her because he said she made him feel relaxed.

They took exquisite care of her.

I witnessed kindness like I’d never seen each day I visited, and, except for a couple of sick days and a week of vacation here and there, I visited every day. These people were making low wages, and they work harder in one day than most people I know have to work in a year.

Low wages often meant they needed to work more than one job, or that they’d have to commute from areas in the city where housing costs weren’t as high. Bus commutes often added a few hours onto long work days. Many of them worked two part-time jobs, which meant no benefits or sick leave. Some of them were treated badly by residents, and sometimes they suffered racial slurs and sentiments from the very people they served. Despite these challenges, they were always kind to my mother and the other residents, and they cared and cared and cared and cared.

I felt bad that some of the hardest-working people who have earned the trust to take care of our beloved elders are not paid wages that cover a comfortable existence, one that allows for leisure time in the day, affordable healthcare, sick time, and vacations. But I felt even worse—and deeply ashamed and embarrassed—when we elected a President whose popularity with his base was based partially on his sworn desire to ban Muslims and build a wall to keep Mexicans out. If he were to achieve his goal, he would ban some of the finest people I’ve ever met in my life, people who attend to the care and dignity of our parents and grandparents.

It is my greatest hope that sanity will prevail on this issue. I wish the President, his supporters, and members of the GOP who seek to build walls—literal and figurative—could understand the true cost of shutting out people who give so much in exchange for so little.

Saying Too Much

Un-Commonn Weal