Welcome Home

d03f1-img_2462Yesterday I did something I’ve been hoping to do for a while. I drove to the airport to welcome “home” a new immigrant. The international terminal was more crowded, and more diverse, than Epcot Center in summer. In fact, one of my first thoughts was how many people from how many places looked so joyful to be here. For a visit, for forever, or coming home after a long trip—whatever—they all looked happy.

I’m pretty sure none looked happier than the couple I was with. We were welcoming a husband whose wife had been here for three years. Three years of waiting. Waiting for the face she loved and lost to an ocean of violence. Waiting for the touch to accompany the voice she heard not often enough. Waiting for the wheels of the refugee system to move to allow her husband the same privilege she had been granted. A new life in a new country, away from the terror of their daily existence. I’ve since researched their home country, and daily terror barely seems to cover it.

Bangladesh / Rohingya refugees from Myanmar / A grandmother and her granddaughter. Teknaf, Cox’s Bazaar District / UNHCR / G.M.B. Akash / June 2006

By the time he got off the plane, he was so tired, he cold barely manage the long-longed-for hug. By the time he boarded the plane many hours before, he had been so tired for so long. I cannot fathom the ability to keep standing, to keep fighting, and to keep hoping. But these people are experts at relentless hope.

It’s Independence Day. There is no better day to have just celebrated someone receiving his independence. He has so much to learn, so far to go. But he is free. He is fortunate.

These people are experts at relentless hope.

How long will it be, I wonder, before he understands the American news well enough to know that not everyone will welcome him with the smiles and handshakes we did? He likely already does. Refugees are a smart lot, and he is far too used to being violently unwelcome not to have analyzed the environment. It’s life and death where he has come from to read the feeling in the room before you enter. He is no fool, I’m sure, when it comes to knowing the current American ethos of fear and distrust of the different among us.

Yet he comes. For a new chance. For his wife. For freedom. And I am humbled to simply haul suitcases and turn a steering wheel. I am the one who knows nothing in this situation.

IMG_5849On this, of all days, let’s revisit the lines on that statue I have yet to see, but I know that my great great grandfather saw it once, from a ship in the harbor.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I know he couldn’t read those lines if he saw them. Yet he knew  their intent.

We will take what others discard. We choose the exiles. We welcome the unwelcome.

It sounds beautiful. It sounds biblical. It sounds like Jesus.

While we argue about making America great again and wrestle with the desire to return to a time when America was “Christian,” we would do well to remember these very, very Christian words. We would do even better to remember how many of our relatives saw those words for the first time from a ship, in a foreign language, and wondered at the welcome they would receive.

From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Welcome home. Happy Independence Day.

One thought on “Welcome Home

  1. I find it touching, amazing, inspiring that the stories from the early days of our country are still being played out today. Thank you for welcoming this hopeful man!


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