Trying to eke every wonderful moment out of a rare family weekend together, we had planned our border crossing for later in the evening on Sunday, knowing we had the benefit of a special “fast lane pass” compliments of the management of our lodging rental. The pass turns what can be a three- to five-hour wait on a Sunday night into about 45 easy minutes. So, with two passes in hand, and all the nearest and dearest people to me in two cars approaching what can be a confusing and harrowing confrontation with the unpredictable city of Tijuana, Mexico, we set off.
Because she was the most experienced in these matters, Anne drove Marti, Chandler and me in the first car followed by Christopher and Elizabeth behind us. Our first brush with the unexpected happened when we took the first exit off the freeway towards San Diego and discovered it was completely blocked with no sign about what you are supposed to do as a detour. We were immediately where you don’t want to be at ten o’clock at night — lost on the back streets of Tijuana.
This is typical of the signage around here. For instance, there will be a sign for San Diego overhead with an arrow pointing slightly right, but no further indication about which one of the next five or six right turns you could take is the correct one. One takes you towards San Diego, the other five, towards a potential drug war. I found some comfort in knowing that Christopher, in the car behind us, is a policeman with the Port of Los Angeles, but what is one against what could be many?
So, after being bumped off course by the closure, and traveling farther than we should, not knowing where we were, or where we were going, we pulled over at a gas station to figure out what to do. With cell phones and GPS’s unavailable, it’s the only way we can communicate. After a brief powwow, we switched, because Christopher thought he knew how to get back to where we got off, which he found, after a fashion. This time, the same street that was blocked 45 minutes earlier was completely clogged with traffic, and in no time, Anne, who we had re-established as the lead car, was trapped in traffic, with nowhere to go. Immediately five guys rushed our car offering to sell us their wares – one sprayed our windshield and started wiping it clean, expecting a tip for his unsolicited service.
From one of these guys we discovered the fast lane was not in operation at that time. Not sure what to do with this unofficial information, we decided not to get in line, knowing, from where the line was backed up to, that we were looking at at least a five-hour wait to get to the border. Something wasn’t right. With roads clogged everywhere, we decided, after another stop, and another powwow, to bail and go back to where we spent the weekend and hope they let us in. We knew the rental was available because we had already discussed with the manager the possibility of another night’s stay. We were tired; we were hungry; and no one wanted to spend the night in line.
Through the course of this whole experience, one thought was impressed upon my mind. The border was right there and we couldn’t get to it. Home was on the other side – at times we could see it – but we might as well have been on another continent; we weren’t going to get there last night.
And then I thought of the people who live every day just a few yards from a better, safer life with hope for their families, but they don’t have a pass, or another day to try again. They have, in some cases, death if they try, and death if they don’t. And though I can’t do anything about this, I certainly have a new appreciation for what it feels like to be in their shoes – so near, and yet so far away.
Jesus had a special heart for the strangers, the prisoners, the hungry, the needy, and the sick. He said that what we do for these people we do for Him. That kind of doing starts with understanding. Today, I think I understand a little more than I did yesterday about what it means to be a stranger in this world.