Director’s Corner - September 2019
Updated: Oct 5
I saw a dead man come back to life today.
There was no magic involved, but it was a miracle nonetheless.
In order to escape his country, save his life, and try to protect his family; a man had to feign his own death. There were formal death notices and a funeral. His wife mourned. His son mourned. No one in his family could know that he was alive or they would also be at risk from the blood thirsty government who sought him. When we first met, he said, “I bet you’ve never met a dead man before.” He was right, of course; and he struggled with his accursed state.
Knowing that he was lost to his family (at least for now), and that his wife might move on without him or his son might come to know another man as “Daddy,” was overwhelming. PSOT staff members literally talked him down from the Brooklyn Bridge in 2012, and it was not the last time that the dead man would consider abruptly reconciling the contradictions of his painful life/death dichotomy.
He considered ending things when his immigration case was repeatedly delayed, and when his exploitative boss accused him of theft, and pressed charges; all because he asked for his back wages. He felt the sting of racism, Islamaphobia and professional devaluation. When he lost his wife to violence in his home country, he realized he could not protect his family. He couldn’t even mourn them. He described himself as “a ghost in my own skin.” Truly a dead man walking.
His asylum case was complicated and convoluted. Years passed, and by the time his final hearing was scheduled for this month he had already given up. We stayed on the phone for two hours last weekend, when he was on an undisclosed subway platform, deciding whether to jump or not.
To say our conversation was intense would be a huge understatement. Voices were raised at our point of mutual desperation. This time, I did a very un-psychologist thing, and asked him for one favor before he decided to die. Let’s at least fight the battle. Let them say “no.” If we lose, what more can be said? After seven years, I felt I had earned enough respect to ask for this one thing. He told me clearly, “Doctor, you are asking a lot.” I validated his point and asked again. He relented, and said that he would re-engage with his legal team and would come to court “one last time,” as long as I was there with him. I gladly accepted this deal.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw him at Federal Plaza earlier this afternoon. He testified well and clarified many issues. His legal team fought ferociously, but it still looked like the case would be delayed yet again. I thought to myself that a delay would be the same as a death sentence. I saw him melting and becoming smaller in his chair. However, things shifted, and the Immigration Judge and attorneys came to an understanding. I’s were dotted and t’s were crossed, and the dead man was granted a new life.
When we hugged, and the tears were beyond sweet; but I couldn’t help but think of his young son.
I wonder what the young boy dreams, or if he still prays at night as his father taught him? What does a child who only knows suffering, and that both of his parents are dead, dream about? What does he dare ask God? What can he realistically expect?
Can he honestly pray that his father would come back to life? That perhaps he really isn’t dead? That maybe his father is somewhere out there and hasn’t forgotten about him? Could it be that Daddy has actually been working tirelessly and suffering to put himself in a position where he could come back to rescue him? Who would dare dream that? What are the chances that such an outlandish dream could be answered?
I don’t know the odds, but I’ve seen the father sacrifice and struggle for the last seven years to make this happen. I know that somewhere in the arid deserts of central Africa, there is a young boy who does not even know the miracle that is coming his way.
I don’t know if I would have believed it myself yesterday; but now I believe anything is possible.
Because today I saw a dead man come back to life.
If this true story has moved you in any way, please share it. This is part of our everyday reality at PSOT. We see the struggle. We wipe the tears. We cajole, encourage and support people who are at the very end of what a human being can be expected to tolerate. It may be rare to see such a dramatic turn of events like we saw today, but it is not rare to put forth the effort so that healing, progress, and yes – miracles, can happen.
We need you in order to keep doing this work. We are overwhelmed with need. The ever-shifting sands of exclusion, xenophobia and fear make it harder and harder for survivors and forced migrants to believe, to hope, or to not take that step over the edge.
Will you help us? Please reach us at www.survivorsoftorture.org. You are the humanistic, driving force behind our everyday miracles. We can’t do this without you.
One love, Hawk