The wall, the seagull, and the rainbow

On Christmas Day, I went with some of my volunteer colleagues to see the infamous Tijuana beach border wall. (Well, technically it’s a fence, but for all practical purposes it’s a wall.) While there, I took the picture below, in which you can see a seagull, a Border Patrol truck on the US side, and a rainbow that ends more or less above the place where the seagull is standing. It struck me later that this picture is symbolic in so many ways of the situation we’re facing at the US-Mexico border, and the situation we face in general as human beings.

Before unpacking that symbolism, I’d like to say a little more about the picture. I took it simply because I saw the Border Patrol truck on the US side and wanted to get a picture of that. I didn’t even notice that the seagull was there. I did notice the rainbow, but I had seen a brighter one earlier, so this one didn’t have much impact on me. The picture was just one of a large number of pictures I took, and it didn’t strike me as anything special when I took it.

Later on, via text message, I told Patricia and her daughter, Marina, where I had been. We lamented the existence of that barrier together, and because I had seen lots of seagulls at the beach, I jokingly said, “The seagulls don’t care about fences.” Marina jokingly replied, “They fly and poop everywhere,” to which I answered, “Poop sin fronteras” (poop without borders).

It wasn’t until afterward, sorting through my photos on my computer, that I noticed that the photos of the Border Patrol truck (I have three similar ones of the same spot) included a seagull literally standing on the wall. This is when the symbolism struck me. Here’s what occurs to me now as I contemplate it:

The picture was taken by an American from the Mexican side of the border. In it, there is the wall and the Border Patrol truck—symbols of the militarized border that needlessly separates us. I as an American can’t even walk over to my own country, while thousands of non-US citizens who try to cross this fiercely defended imaginary line are turned away, imprisoned, condemned to die in the desert, and even killed for just trying to live. It brings to my mind all of the borders, internal and external, that separate us.

Standing on the wall is a seagull, a creature that can freely fly between countries and to whom the border is irrelevant—a symbol of the transcending of borders. Now, seagulls aren’t usually thought of as noble and inspiring birds—“They fly and poop everywhere.” But we’ll set aside the poop; the point is that they fly. I think of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the famous fictional bird who dreams of flying beyond all limits. It brings to my mind our own aspirations to transcend our limits, to go beyond all the borders we’ve set up.

And in the sky is a rainbow—a symbol of hope. Of course, in our Western culture we have the biblical story of God placing the rainbow in the sky after the great flood. That rainbow was a sign of God’s promise that there would never be another flood like that one, and an affirmation of His covenant with His people. For most of us, a rainbow arising out of a storm is a happy sight, one we usually excitedly point out to others, a sight that always lifts our spirits. It brings to my mind God’s promise of a life beyond borders, inner or outer, and the unquenchable hope that this promise will indeed be fulfilled.

All in all, a wonderful gift on Christmas Day!

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P.S. Here’s a picture of that infamous fence/wall:

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