Sparked by Words

Flight

imagesI joggled from foot to foot at Los Angeles International Airport, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our youngest son. He was coming home after the first semester of graduate school at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, a long way from California. It was shortly before the 9-11 attacks against the World Trade Center, and we eager greeters were allowed to stand by the exit ramps as passengers tromped toward us. Hundreds of people came off that plane, crowded in ways that bring to mind encroachment of personal space. Adults pleased to be home, kids thrilled to be a few miles closer to Disneyland, tourists happy to finally visit the Golden State, businessmen hot to close deals, friends delighted to meet the old crew.

The buzz of conversations boiled into a conglomerate muddle that mingled several languages though most spoke English. Except for a few toddlers wailing in the familiar trope of I’m tired, I’m hungry, they jabbered untroubled content. My son was sure to be the last person off the plane, no matter how excited his mama was to plant kisses all over his cheeks and squeeze him to death with hugs. It was pretty obvious who missed who the most. So I waited and smiled at everyone debarking the plane from New York’s JFK Airport. Not my son yet.

A lapse in the line and then the people exiting changed. The cheerful folk gave way to those whose faces spoke of hardship, weariness, exhaustion. And quiet. They were all so quiet, even the little children holding onto adult hands. These folks weren’t dressed in fashionable jackets and jeans with chic knit scarves hanging over their tee shirts. The men wore the loose trousers like my grandfathers wore in the 1950’s. The children were bundled in layers of frayed, hand knit sweaters. None of them pulled snazzy Samsonite luggage or college backpacks. They lugged piles of enormous suitcases that looked like they were made of origami paper. Definitely not leather or heavy duty plastic, this stuff (maybe thin polyvinyl) looked unlikely to stand up under a trip down an exit ramp, forget a long journey from another country.

I asked the person next to me who they were and got back one word: refugees. Not coming home but seeking refuge from war in Eastern Europe.

The women gave it away. They wore calf length dresses in flowered patterns. Had I not known better, I would have thought they’d all alighted from Conestoga wagons after a weary trek across the prairie. In a way, I’d guessed right. The women wore scarves, mostly black, cinched around their heads, tied under their chins, down to their shoulders so not even bangs or a single bedraggled tress dangled out of the edges. Muslim women. Muslim men. Muslim children. Muslim people, dozens of them, plodding down the ramp. All of them silent, sad, tired, dejected.

As I heard that word, refugee, I realized I could be looking into the faces of my own grandparents and great-grandparents who also fled persecution from the czar and hate mongers, from fear, repression, prejudice, and war in Europe. They came to the United States at the turn of the last century. The Muslim men resembled the men of my family, thin and haggard. The Muslim women looked like my bubbie, blank expressions except for those who wore worry like a permanent tattoo. And the Muslim children – the children looked like no children I’d ever seen. Wary of strangers, somber beyond their years. People who had escaped but feared for those who had not, friends and family left behind because sometimes that’s what must be done. My family lumbered down the gangplanks of ships in New York Harbor. These people lumbered from airplanes.

They were not just refugees – the Muslims, the Jews – they were escapees, they were survivors, their futures uncertain but more promising than the bleakness of the countries they fled. No one moves to another country, leaving behind parents, friends, and neighbors to live in an apartment in a strange city. No one risks the lives of their children and accepts the peril of traveling through hostile lands, strange communities, to live in a place where the language and culture are foreign – unless significant threat forces them.

My son did walk down that airport ramp finally. I always knew I’d see him again. I knew he’d come home.

Saturday, at airports in New York and Los Angeles, thousands of people worried that they would never again see their loved ones. Alien status. Unwanted despite passports, documents, VISAs. Denied because of an executive order, illegal, undemocratic, unconstitutional, prejudicial, and despicable.

Remember a simple fact. We are all immigrants. Whoever you are, you came from someplace else, your ancestors came from someplace else. We left behind many who loved us and many who missed us and most we never saw again. These provoke human movement: fear, discrimination, hunger, persecution, hatred, war. Your family got a chance. So did mine. I did not forget.

Look in the mirror. Who do you see? When I look, I see an immigrant’s child.

 

Immigrants image courtesy of Google public domain images, Wikimedia

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Comments on: "Flight" (40)

  1. A beautiful, wise, moving and authentic post. We are all immigrants and those who come now deserve to be treated with respect and warmth. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What a lovely post, Sharon. We should never take things for granted, never forget.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Still another thing we have in common. My grandfather was Russian-German from somewhere along the Volga River. I’ve dreamt of visiting the land where my grandfather grew up but I know that dream will never come true at this late date. I sit glued to the TV when “Fiddler on the Roof” or “Yentl” is playing, just to get some sort of feel for the life my grandfather had in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

    Although my grandfather wasn’t a refugee, he did come to the US to escape the Russian Revolution. His older brother got drafted into it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My father’s family was from Russia, my mother’s from Poland, but according to her father it could have been Russia, just depended upon which army had the biggest guns. My father’s grandparents came over with two toddlers. We think they fled not only because of the strangling persecution of Jews, but the fear of the men who kidnapped young Jewish boys and forced them into the army. They were very secretive (frightened) about their circumstances, but we know they left family behind. Conscription into the Russian army wasn’t a 4 year service, it was for 25 – 40 years – basically their lifetimes, should they survive. I’m not certain my grandparents on either side would have been considered refugees, but they were certainly immigrants escaping a terrible situation.

      Glynis, I hope your grandfather felt he had a better life here in the US. Russia a a gorgeous land but the government from the czars to the current demagogue has not been kind to the Russian people.

      Liked by 2 people

      • My grandfather enjoyed his life immensely. He worked for Gates Rubber Plant in Denver and was so well liked by the owner that he was awarded to the position of operator of the machine the owner had used. I know it doesn’t sound like much at all, but it gave him status the other operators didn’t have. He was always a happy soul.

        Liked by 1 person

      • What a sweet story about your grandfather, Glynis. Some people have ancestors who founded huge companies or discovered something useful or spectacular. But most people who came to the US just wanted a chance to work hard and take care of their families.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Shari,
    Beautiful post. My family history is the flip of yours – mother’s parents from Russia, Father’s from Poland.

    Indeed, we are all physical immigrants on this sphere we call earth and spiritual immigrants on this realm of eternity. Too soon we forget . . .

    One of my favorite Baha’i quotes is “God has created the world as one—the boundaries are marked out by man.”
    ‘Abdu’l-Baha

    Liked by 2 people

  5. So many of the people who support Donald Trump’s outrageous behavior this week seem to have forgotten their own family history. The treatment of immigrants at US airports in the last few days has been shameful.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. The worst part about this to me is that our disastrous foreign policy is partially responsible for the crisis. “Regime change” politicians hoping it will look good for the election cycle who joke about killing foreign leaders and drone strikes (that so often kill innocent people) let this happen. It’s not a left or right thing. It’s a human thing.

    When I think of my nephews in the military, Annapolis graduates with good hearts and tons of courage and think of all the men and women who through every presidency that I can remember are sent to sacrifice themselves, some to come home with devastating injuries (did you know there’s a ton of men who because of land mines now have no reproductive organs–think how young they are!), some with severe PTSD etc. Where’s the outcry?

    Where’s the outcry when we use depleted uranium in ammunition so that Iraqi babies are born deformed?

    Where’s the outcry when Christians are beheaded? How about gays being stoned and women sold into sex trafficking by Isis?

    “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.” Jefferson’s words are fitting for not just our country, but the world.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There is no doubt that millions of people worldwide suffer for the actions of people in power, (and it’s tragically always been true since recorded history and probably before) but I absolutely do not believe that our country’s actions at this moment are correct or righteous. I do think there is outcry about injustice but it is not often accompanied by the power to enact change.

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Adrienne. We do not always share ideas about solutions but I do believe we share a sense of compassion.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. This is such an excellent post. So well written and a very important message and reminder. Proud grandchild of Irish immigrants here.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Yep! We’re like people who’ve bought into a nice area and don’t want anyone else coming in to lower the tone.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautifully written, Sharon. My heart hurts for us all.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Written so well, Shari. Sigh. This is a true writer’s story. Loved it.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. As you mentioned in your comment to Bun, it is hard to keep politics out of our posts. And this topic is at the cruz of it all. We are America and made up of immigrants. We are immigrants not much removed ourselves from our families’ journeys here. This is the most difficult part of our present state for me – the callous turning on others who are so vulnerable. That Ugly American we would like to keep in a closet in the cellar. I am most proud of the people here in our America who are not tolerating this behavior. they counteract the view being set forth by the ugly among us.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. An important reminder. We need to remember that human beings, real people with real feelings, get caught up any political madness. May we all rise to the occasion and show compassion.

    Like

  13. Asbah Alaena said:

    How genuine! Heartwarming and wise!

    I blog at amuslimmama.com

    Like

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