I am an immigrant. I know what it feels like to be completely out of place. Out of sorts. Out of language. Out of body. Out of country. I know what it means to start from nothing. No friendships. No strength. No community.
I know what it feels like to have the days stretch into more days for months on end.
I have to look for everything. Where to buy a pair of scissors in this country? What brands of medicine work best? Where do I buy a gift for my sister-in-law? I feel incompetent. I feel stupid. I feel lost.
I go into each new store and study it. I learn the contents of the shelves, the colours of the brands, the taste of orange juice here. I am a student of this new place, but I don’t have a teacher or a manual. I have to find my own way. And the simplest acts of learning require so much time, so much energy, so much humility.
I have to switch to a new deodorant, new laundry detergent, new shampoo. Where do I buy makeup? O, dear. Who will cut my hair?
I start from scratch. Bare feet in the dirt. Lonely steps in long aisles. I have to learn who I am in this new place.
I see people hustling off to work or spending time with friends–people they’ve known since high school or even elementary school. You watch the comfort of those long relationships and you wish for them too. But you also know: those kinds of relationships take time and then you wish you had never taken any relationships for granted. Ever.
So you just put one foot in front of the other and you drink tea alone and you scroll through channels on TV to see what to watch. And some days you want to sleep and not get up, because conquering is tiring. Conquering requires strength and you have long since forgotten what it feels like to be strong.
You cry every Sunday when you watch Touched by an Angel. It unleashes something deep in you … The tears help you connect with your pain and your longings and everything you are feeling, but don’t even know you are feeling. Because you are walking this out alone. With God, but alone. With your tender husband, but alone.
I am the woman who knows what it feels like to drive on a highway and not know where you’re going, because it’s the very first time you’ve ever driven on that road. And you’re driving on the other side of the road, for goodness’ sake! And why are drivers honking at me?
Don’t people know I am doing my very very best?
I am the woman who has to take deep breaths and face the fear on every new road. It’s not just driving, I am conquering. I cry the first time I drive across the Alex Fraser bridge, the big bridge that takes me out of my city. The bridge that takes me into more unchartered territory. Always more. More new places to set my feet. Always more of this new land.
I learn what it means to make new paths in the desert, God as my Helper. God holding my hand and God cupping my heart … I hold onto God and you know I pray as I grip the steering wheel, because I have nothing else. I have to go so deep into myself to find courage, because the Fear sits on my chest with every mile, every exit, every decision.
I am not just driving; I am conquering fear.
I know the deep loneliness that comes with a new country.
I know distance. I know isolation.
I can never drop in for a quick cup of tea with my mom. Or Sunday lunch with my parents. I know how to calculate time zones and teach my parents to use Skype. I ache as I watch my parents get older on the other side of the world. I ache as I wonder: how will we navigate this season when I am so far away?
I am the woman who has learned that “home” will never be simple again. In fact, I stopped trying to find “where home is” and just accepted that home is where my people are–the people I love–and that it is in too many places.
Now home is everywhere on this big, beautiful planet.
I speak English. Even if it’s not my mother tongue, I know this makes me profoundly privileged. So, I make English my work and my love. I work and write and read and pour myself into it and I let the language settle in me, just as I am settling in it.
I smile at other immigrants. I smile at strangers, because I am a stranger. I smile, because making a new country your own is so hard and kindness matters. Kindness matters and it heals.
I learn the power of a simple invitation: Want to have tea? The ripples of those words meet me in the deepest loneliness. I try not to look too eager, but inside I am wildly grateful. Somebody wants to spend time with me! And this is how my very first friendship starts, six months after I land in this new country.
It is a new beginning.
I know the God who meets me in my nothingness. This God sets my wobbly feet upon a Rock. This God of immigrants and refugees and the lonely and the excluded, is the only reason I survive. This God, and tears on Sunday nights, a husband who listens and cares and an invitation to tea.
I am an immigrant.
My pain has taught me to welcome others and show kindness to strangers.
Check out the beautiful website and movement at #iamanimmigrant. I am not American, but the immigrant experience translates and crosses borders and language, cultures and time. Add your voice.
Original image by Tina Francis.