Until I was almost 37 years old, I had only lived in America, in the state of Georgia.
And up until the age of 17, I had never even traveled outside of the southeastern United States.
Four years ago last month, I left home. I was a bundle of so many emotions. I said goodbye to family, friends, my church, my job, and everything that I knew as normal. And I began a journey.
I stepped into a nearly new and very comfy truck, along with my husband and two children. My brother-in-law drove us to the airport, with more than a dozen suitcases loaded up in the back, stuffed full of things we felt we simply couldn’t part with.
A selection of furniture, additional clothing, and favorite household items and knickknacks had already been carefully packed into crates by a moving company, awaiting the orders to travel over the ocean and into Europe.
We arrived at an airport hotel. We had decided it would be easier to say all of our good-byes at places other than the airport: in the comfort of homes, restaurants, and other safe and familiar places. We wanted our kids to see airports as an exciting place, a destination packed with wonder and anticipation of the adventures ahead.
Goodbyes behind us, we checked into a nice hotel room overlooking the airport runway. As the boys watched the planes rhythmically taking off and landing, reality suddenly hit.
Our last night in America. Our family was hours away from us, and we were just hours away from moving from the only home we’d ever known.
And a new wave of emotions hit as well.
While the past months had been filled with excitement, details, and a bit of anxiety, we were now left with nothing but the wait. No more packing. No more farewells. No more telling people where we were going, or making calls to ensure travel plans and documents were in place as they should be.
For the past year, after our house sold much more quickly than anticipated, we’d be living in the basement at my in-law’s home. So there had been very little time in those 12 months where it was just the four of us.
We sat in that rather spacious hotel room. And it felt small, unfamiliar and scary.
We went to sleep – or at least tried to sleep – as we prepared to travel very early the next morning. Our company had purchased our tickets and arranged for our bags to be taken directly from the airport to our more-than-adequate apartment in our new city, our new country. Public transit passes were also awaiting us at our destination, along with people who would welcome us and direct us to our new home, arranged by our company as well.
Four years later, I can still vividly recall the emotions of that experience.
But my perspective has greatly shifted in the last few months. I’ve become friends with a group of folks who are new to our city of Sandefjord. People who also left home, and set out for a new adventure and a new life.
Only, in most respects, their experiences have been drastically different from mine.
My friends come from Syria. From Iraq. From Somalia. From Eritrea. And they arrived in this country as asylum seekers. Unsure of whether or not they would be accepted or rejected.
No reserved seats on a plane. No vehicles arranged to transport them. No fancy housing reserved in advance. No abundance of belongings being sent via crate. No surplus of baggage, the costs being covered by a sponsoring company.
No. They came by boat. They swam. They snuck. They paid. They waited. They wondered. They risked everything.
They did not leave home to follow a career path. They did not move on a whim or sense of adventure. They didn’t travel in hopes of exciting new opportunities.
They left in the dark of night. They left family behind, unsure if they’d ever see them again. They ran from war. From persecution. From political threats. They moved from everything that was familiar, from everything that was once safe but was no longer so.
My feelings of fear and uncertainty are not invalidated by the experiences of my friends.
But as I’ve sat and heard their stories, I certainly do see things in a new light.
My new friends are an inspiration to me. I hope and pray that, regardless of where they ultimately reside, they will find peace and happiness, and they will once again feel a sense of home and security.