I love Loretta. This is a wonderful old woman in a visor with her walker-walking husband who, following Loretta, blessed me like a bedoin guru that traded in his loincloth for blue-jeans with an elastic waistband, a thin polo and a straw hat. They brought their shrimpy rat-dog who they “can’t go anywhere without” to the park to join us, Abilenians of one sort or another, gathered to celebrate World Refugee Day a few months late.
This was last Sunday night. Working for the International Rescue Committee has been unbelievable. Really. From the time I applied to now, the whole thing has been a beautiful gift.
Some favorite moments? Glad you asked.
-Seeing some refugees who had taken the wrong bus, passing them in my car in a hurry with no time to give them a ride as they walked past my car toward the office. They were a mixed group, a particularly tall family of Africans walking far ahead of a scrambling-to-keep-up short family of Bhutanese. You could almost read the emotions on each face, the feeling of improperness of the tall, aged and experienced mother, the impatience of her son, the respect of the other family’s short father, the kindness of the one farthest back, the short sister who knows no English but is proud to go with the flow, proud that she has not lost them all who seem to go ahead of her with their long legs and their knowledge and worldly perspective.
-A new mother telling me that all had changed after her son was born, that “he is [her] heart”, that she is able to see herself really for the first time.
-Seeing a favorite of mine, a young woman, standing in a soft pink, ’80’s style dress, with shoulder pads like tiny angel wings protesting their being hidden. Her standing there at the bus stop with the clear plastic book cover she used as a purse, waiting alone in a contented posture, almost looking pleased that she is who she is where she is.
-Burundians, Congolese, Liberians, Sierra-Leonese, Bhutanese, Cubans, Texans and more, all mixing in amongst live performances of song and dance, ethnic foods, fashions, and inflatable moon-bouncers. I believe everyone enjoyed everyone last Sunday. I saw every face I have loved, every smile I have chased around town to scold and save from job termination, every hand I have shaken upon first meeting, every smile that has grown from mutual admiration and recognition of respect. It all mixed around me for a few hours.
I don’t think you can experience this with the non-human things you may love. You will not see your beloved dog mix with your most-admired paintings and your love for Canadian wilderness and sunsets into something that combines them all in one being to love. Such things cannot meld into a single beloved, a dog with sunset-toned acrylic fur and Canadian foliage for legs. Such a thing cannot sit before you, jump in you lap smearing paint and warm-light licks.
But to see so many people that you love see each other, present themselves to one another, and then to be accepted is a phenomenon. They the, from 5-9 on a Sunday evening, become one entity, a community to embrace, to enter and let swirl around you on all sides Every sense was electrified. The thing loved me with handshakes and hugs, with dhal and casava leaves, with swahili lyrics and talk of familia, with visions of saris and sarongs and dignity, with the wind of each pull and push of it. I swam in it and drank from it. I left the night full and hungry still.
That’s how I feel leaving the IRC. Full and hungry still.