Magda has a visa

A mother will see her son graduate from a US college thanks to a warm-hearted response

Thanks. This comes first and foremost: many, many thanks. For the solidarity, the generosity, the sensitivity of so many people; those who did something because they could; those who offered their help though aware they could do nothing, and all the others.

Several weeks ago, on this same page, I told the story of Magda Ortiz de Diarte, the mother of José Carlos, a Paraguayan student who has just finished a medical degree at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. Magda had just been refused a visa to attend her son's graduation, though she produced exhaustive documentation of her stable residence in Spain and her intention to return after the ceremony. Since then I have received many messages of encouragement for her, from Spanish and Latin American citizens; by telephone, by email, even in the street.

The day after the article came out, Rafael, a Socialist friend and upstairs neighbor, came by. Before even coming downstairs, he had rung a friend of his, who had called another, in charge of media relations in the US Embassy. Immediately I felt something hard to describe, a deep warmth. He doesn't know Magda from Adam (or Eve), yet he had reacted to her pain, her bitterness — and above all had done something. This, which seems so little, is so much, that I could think of no answer but to say I was going to give him two kisses. And I did.

Now Magda has a visa, and will see her son graduate, and is as happy as she deserves to be. She will remember the day. And so will I, because her story has taught me many things. That you mustn't give up. That you can trust people. That in times like ours, solidarity can bloom like flowers, on ground theoretically reserved for the weeds of selfishness.

Because it is easy to assume that the less people have, the more they turn selfish, miserly, mean, insensitive. But this isn't true, not always. In the depth of misfortune, a hidden muscle works to expand, to broaden the surface of shared misfortune, to create space for other people, other stories, other misfortunes. People who have been trampled on by fate, unjustly robbed of their possessions and well-being, feel the grievances of others as if they were their own, and more. Among those who have been lucky enough to keep their job, their way of life, their future hopes, in the desolate landscape of a country in ruins, many are equally capable of feeling another's wounds as if they were their own.

The power of solidarity

My optimism may well seem excessive, but I cannot write today in any other frame of mind. Because Magda now has a visa, and it would have been so easy for nobody to care about her not having one, that this small victory takes on epic proportions in my contented eyes.

This is why I dare to suggest to you the power of the machine that your own solidarity might set in motion. Because there are millions of Magdas in the world, millions of small just causes that need all of us — not our money, not our alms, not our scowls of disgust as we read the newspaper or watch the TV news - but our heart. It is our heart that is in question, an infallible weapon capable of changing the course of things.

Cynics often wonder aloud whether solving the problem of one single person is worthwhile; whether we get anywhere freeing just one person when millions of others remain in the same trap. The answer is yes, it is worthwhile. Because just one opens a path that others, with a little help, can walk.

So now I wish to give heartfelt thanks to many people. To those who have helped, and those who wished to help. To all, known and unknown, who felt Magda's plight as their own. To Rafael, and to his two friends, equally unknown to me, a million thanks.

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