Last week I said good-bye to one of my closest friends. “I’m used to this,” I told myself. Somehow, that does not make it any easier. In an unbidden act of total irony, I found myself in the Atlanta airport yesterday, on a layover during my travels back to Chicago. Almost exactly fifteen years prior (give or take a day or two), my family flew out of the Atlanta airport to move to the other side of the world, literally. Fifteen years is not very long. Yet for me it’s seemed like a couple of lifetimes smooshed together. A lot has happened in fifteen years.
Anyway, the temptation throughout the years has sometimes been to keep a safe distance from really deep relationships, because those good-byes totally hurt the most. But I keep meeting these incredible people who make it pretty near impossible for me to keep myself from loving them. I try, but they are just too wonderful.
So I appreciated this challenge from Shauna Niequist in her fabulous collection of essays, Bittersweet. I think she wrote this part just for me.
Share your life with the people you love…if you let enough years pass, and if you let the routine steamroll your life, you’ll wake up one day, isolated and weary, and wonder what happened to all those old friends. You’ll wonder why all you share is Christmas cards, and why life feels lonely and bone-dry…So walk across the street, or drive across town, or fly across the country, but don’t let really intimate loving friendships become the last item on a long to-do list. Good friendships are like breakfast. You think you’re too busy to eat breakfast, but then you find yourself exhausted and cranky halfway through the day, and discover that your attempt to save time totally backfired. In the same way, you can try to go it alone because you don’t have time or because your house is too messy to have people over, or because making new friends is like the very worst parts of dating. But halfway through a hard day or a hard week, you’ll realize in a flash that you’re breathtakingly lonely, and that the Christmas cards aren’t much company. Get up, make a phone call, buy a cheap ticket, open your front door.
I’ve been on a bit of a children’s lit kick lately. Oh wait, I’m always on a children’s lit kick. Well anyway, children’s lit is the perfect end-of-the-semester study break, because it’s easy and delightful and keeps me from crying into my laptop keyboard as I’m writing that fourth final paper.
So a week or two ago, I read Maniac Magee. (Where has this book been all my life?) It’s the story of a boy who runs and runs and runs, and whether he’s running away from something or searching for someone, well, that’s hard to say. He’s legendary and tough and good at everything, but he just wants a place to belong. I was struck by the following passage in which an old man named Grayson is trying to get him to go to school. Actually, it sort of reminded me of my dorm in high school. It was an overnight school where I could lay down my head at night and walk through the front door without knocking and everyone would be talking. That’s pretty magical when you’re fifteen years old. Or twenty six.
“But you gotta. Doncha? They’ll make ya.”
“Not if they don’t find me.”
The old man just looked at him for a while with a mixture of puzzlement and amazement…”Why?” he said.
Maniac felt why more than he knew why. It had to do with homes and families and schools, and how a school seems sort of like a big home, but only a day home, because then it empties out; and you can’t stay there at night because it’s not really a home, and you could never use it as your address, because an address is where you stay at night, where you walk right in the front door without knocking, where everybody talks to each other and uses the same toaster. So all the other kids would be heading for their homes, their night homes, each of them, hundreds, flocking from school like birds from a tree, scattering across town, each breaking off to his or her own place, each knowing exactly where to land. School. Home. No, he was not going to have one without the other.
“If you try and make me,” he said, “I’ll just start running.”
The semester is winding down, at long last. One paper and two books to go, and then it’s two weeks of freedom. While this may be the shortest break I’ve ever had, I’m planning on cherishing every well-rested minute of it. Oh sleep, how I’ve missed you…
This has been a busy–yet rewarding–couple of months. Add in some frustration, a lot of excitement, a sprinkling of growth, and quite a few laughs, and you’ve got a good picture of my semester. One of the most rewarding aspects of the last few months has been all that I’ve learned and experienced in a class called Migration, Social Justice, and Human Rights. The required reading for this class was fantastic. And since you, too, might be coming up on a Christmas break, I thought I’d suggest a couple books for your reading list.
Enrique’s Journey is the Sonya Nazario’s article-turned-book, Pulitzer Prize-winning account of a teenage boy’s relentless attempt to migrate from Honduras to the U.S. to find his mother. This one story represents a thousand stories of children who risk their lives to seek reunions with parents who are working in the States.
This book will give you the inside view of an immigration detention center that perhaps you never wanted to have. Ana Amalia Guzman Molina shares her experience of being separated from her children and detained for almost a year in The Power of Love: My Experience in a U.S. Immigration Jail. It’s pretty difficult to find, but I was able to get it through inter-library loan at my local public library.
Finally, national best-seller A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is Ishmael Beah’s personal account of being torn from his family during the Sierra Leone civil war, and eventually being recruited as a solider–at the age of 12. My disclaimer is that this book is quite graphic, yet not without a purpose. Beah is an incredible writer who brings all the horror of war and the confusion of a child right to your fingertips. It’s been too easy to hear news of war atrocities and mass displacement and just continue on with my day. That’s not so easily done now that I’ve read this book.