Priya Huffman on the vulnerability of people who have just moved to a new city, of migrants and refugees.
This morning the lightest snow sprinkled hill tops across the valley. We are attentive to the shifts and slides of each mercurial day, attempting to learn by heart some aspect of this foreign geography, its moods and turns, as if that might help us know ourselves as ‘here’.
From the kitchen and dining room window of this new home, in this new town, we can see a faint ribbon of movement in the far distance, which is the highway, snaking its way north into Washington State and south into California.
I find that steady stream of highway disconcerting, a reminder, a constant reminder, of impermanence. At the very time when every particle of me wants to root, wants to spread a fine filament of belonging to fill the pot into which we have chosen to transplant ourselves.
When I was a young child my mother took my sister and me to Europe for several winter months. We traveled extensively by train and often at night. I remember being glued to the window when we passed a village or town, absorbing snippets of lived life through the lighted windows, a family at table, a man sitting in an armchair, a woman moving across an upper room, a lit fire. It invariably instilled a wan feeling within me. They appeared to belong, to a house, a village, maybe even to each other, while I was hurtling between points, in suspension with uncertain affiliation.
Now it is reversed. We are stationary, but able to see the movement beyond our small center of quietude. It evokes for me images and thoughts for the many millions of migrants and refugees in the world to date. More than ever before as of 2015 there were 65.3 million. Those forced to flee war with a bundle of clothes and terrors, maybe with stupefied kids in tow, or those torn from their families for want of the right piece of paper as is happening now in our new America, as they begin their northern journey to the safe harbors of the Canadian border. And I cannot but also think of my parents fleeing Germany with gold stars branded forever in their psyches, arriving penniless and so scared to a foreign land where they did not know the language or the measure of their welcome.
We too have left a home after more than 30 years, but it was a choice, albeit a vulnerable choice, not driven by necessity. We had money to pad the way with a warm bed at night, food along the way, a safe car to transport us. We were graced with a soft landing, a home to receive us, friends to welcome us. We are the truly fortunate ones.
Yet this dislocation has brought me into more intimate relationship to my parents and their mad flight to safety across a war-torn world, as well as to the millions who right now are hiding, unsafe, cold or hungry.
I feel acutely the vulnerability that is part of my personal experience, part of my gene pool, as well as part of our human capacity to empathize. I wonder with a disquieted heart what may become of us during this time of nationalism and violence? During this time of rising oceans, discarded environmental protections, during this time of resurrected hatreds, violated Jewish cemeteries, ongoing bomb threats, desecrated mosques and slaughtered worshippers.
Last night I read that some brave activists had scaled our lady of liberty to post a ‘Refugees Welcome’ sign in direct opposition to so much of what this country is becoming. The Statue of Liberty stands as the very quintessential symbol of hope to those needing refuge from the storms of war or suffering. The poet Emma Lazarus wrote these iconic lines as part of a fundraiser for the construction of the statue in 1882. These words are now inscribed at her base, “Give me your poor / Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The highway becomes my personal remembrance and now that the last box has been unpacked, I look up to see what is next to be done in this new place which may one day be called home.
dusk makes distant
sharp mountain silhouettes
slides shadowed fingers
into that sliver between bone
it is the hour
when the earth turns
towards her darkening
and I belong nowhere
not to the cloudless
bright winter days
that spark action and resolve
not to the mystery
stretching long towards
solstice, which pulls me
down to better hear the
voice of the ants
not to home within walls
decked with woven fabric
from woman’s work
but to no man’s land
where veils are porous
where only one small curl
of a pen stands between
refuge and refugee.
Previously published in Priya’s blog under the title: Refugees Welcome
The poem .e appeared in the poetry book ‘of Bone and Breath‘
Priya Huffman (aka Ma Yoga Priya) holds an undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Psychology, a masters in Psychology, both from Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. She took sannyas at Mount Abu in 1973, and rejoined secular life in 1986 as a practicing psychotherapist. Priya is a potter and poet who lives in Ashland, Oregon. She is the author of ‘The Territory of Home’ and of ‘Bone and Breath‘. priyahuffman.com
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