Sunday, September 18, 2011

Vocabulary Lesson

The last few days, I've been caught up in reading a popular YA trilogy about war and revolution in a futuristic time.  It's nothing mind blowing and it's a quick, easy read, but I am absorbed in the story line. When I get focused on a good book, I have a hard time doing anything else but sitting and reading. In fact, even as I sit here, the other part of my mind's eye is pulling me towards my Nook, to rush through whatever I am doing, asking to refocus on the story, to reach the conclusion sooner rather than later. It's a good thing that I'm an incredibly fast reader (my one skill) otherwise, I'd be bogged down for weeks every time I opened a book.

But as I started the third book last night, a word I see every day jumped out at me on the first page.


Staring at me. And for a minute, I was overwhelmed at the meaning of that word.

I know what it means. Every day, I say the word refugee, see it written a thousand times. At least once a week, I'm explaining to a stranger the nature of my work, the individuals whose lives I am privileged to be a part of, even for a brief moment. The weight of that word is so heavy. War. Pain. Loss. Grief. Dehumanized.  Fear.  Desperation.  Flight. I live in a world of privilege where I am allowed to look how I want, speak the language I know, practice my religion how I see fit. I've seen poverty, sadness but truly, I don't know what it means to lose everything.

The individuals I have met have endured the most horrific things imaginable. Wars, sometimes continuous over decades, wars that never end, just a different group in power. Persecution because of their ethnic group, their language, their religious beliefs. Watching people die.  Rape.  Tortured for what they know, or don't know. Aggressors stripping them of what makes them human. Fleeing what they knew, leaving behind homes, towns, family members and friends, knowing they will never ever go back. Illness in camps.  Deaths of children from diseases that no longer exist in other parts of the world.  Discrimination in their nation of asylum because they look different--their skin is darker, their accent is odd. Arrests, interrogations simply because they don't quite fit into the norm.  Always on the run, the defensive, waiting for the next blow.  Never quite being safe.

Every story unique, every story different, but somehow, every story the same.  Heartbreaking.


The weight of that word is so heavy. Strength. Resilience. Safety. Forward. Ahead. Future.  Hope.  People come here, sometimes with one bag, holding the only belongings that anchor them to this world. They come here with only the family they have left.  Or, they come here alone, leaving their families behind. They pick up the pieces of their lives as best they can and keep walking forward because it's all they can do. Sometimes, they do it for themselves. Sometimes they do it for their children. And sometimes, once they get here, they can't do it at all.  They are finally safe and that's when they give up, go under and just let go.

I know most of my clients would think I'm ridiculous for having these overwrought thoughts about them and their experiences. "I'm just here. I do what I have to do.  You would, too." I am certain that several of my colleagues who were refugees themselves, if they ever read this, would outright laugh at my wonderment at their experience. "You just have no idea how the rest of the world is.  This is how it is."

But truly, the meaning of the word refugee is so far beyond my comprehension of reality, that when I really stop to think about it, really dwell on what that would mean for me, now, to become that word, to put myself in their shoes, I don't know that I would be one who made it.  I mean, I white whine when I'm told the restaurant I'm dining in is out of ranch dressing.  How could I possibly deal with the reality of fleeing for my life?

I'm humbled to know these individuals, my clients, my coworkers, my friends.  Their lives are a testament to the sheer will of humans to survive.  Their lives are a reminder to give thanks for what I have and continue to give back to those who have not.

"You are forgiven for your happiness and your successes only if you generously consent to share them."
--Albert Camus


That gentleman's lady said...

I cant possibly imagine being one.... They must have an incredible amount of courage to survive.

gaf85 said...

Hi There,
I found your blog randomly by pushing "next blog". Your blog is one of the more thoughtful ones I have encountered in quite awhile. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Elisabeth, this is a piece of incredible beauty. Both in content and in form. I just found your blog and read your next (actually previous) post about not being creative right after this. You are creative. You are a writer!!

Far said...

Your words touched me. :)