I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me

If you have ever wondered where these blog ideas come from, please know that they don’t come from me. They come to me. I might be driving along the glorious Cape Shore when a thought starts to percolate, weaving itself into a story before I even make it to Placentia. I could be stirring a drop of milk into my tea while looking out the kitchen window absent-mindedly as an idea floats by, asking me to grab it.

The esteemed American poet Ruth Stone – a Pulitzer Prize finalist at age 94 -experienced a more dramatic version of my idea-catching. According to the wonderful writer Elizabeth Gilbert, Ms. Stone described how she would be dutifully completing her daily chores as a young woman in rural Virginia when she would feel a poem racing towards her across the fields. Aware of the approaching poem, she would run towards the farmhouse in an effort to grab a pen and paper. If she didn’t run fast enough, the poem would move through her quickly, traversing the fields to find another poet. Thankfully, there were other times when she did catch the poem and was able to bring it to life on paper.

Such was the case this week. While a poem didn’t pursue me, a story did. I found myself at a meeting surrounded by a boatload of strong, kind and colourful women. Each had a story to tell and each story was tinged with the fascinating fragments of their lives. Most were like me, Newfoundlanders born on this beautiful, safe island.

There was one lady, though, who stood out immediately. Her accent was jarring, a rhythmic combination of Cuban and English, so I thought. As the meeting ended, my curious nature led me to ask this lady where she was from. With a spirited voice, she responded, “I am from Syria”. For just a moment, the unabashed pride in her voice as she said “Syria” reminded me of the time I asked a lady who I thought was from St. Mary’s where she was from and she answered, “St. Mary’s, Path End.” Two women from totally different backgrounds and parts of the world responding in a way that spoke profoundly of their connection to “home”.

I was in awe of this woman. She spoke quietly of her many gifts, including her ability to create wedding dresses, style hair and design jewelry! She vividly described her journey to Canada, and how she had fallen in love with Newfoundland and it's people. She also spoke of her dream to attend university here in Newfoundland and start a new life.

When the meeting was over and I asked if she had any questions about my presentation, this fascinating women said, “Priscilla, I have no idea what you said!” My own accent had been so strong and my speech so fast that it got in the way! So there we were, two women with similar interests from very different places laughing and sharing and connecting.

This woman brought the Syrian refugee crisis to life that day. We have heard so often of those who been driven from their native country due to what for us is the unimaginable terror of war; of daily bomb raids, homes being destroyed, lives lost. We’ve seen the images of men, women and children arriving here, certainly happy to begin life in a country where freedom and peace abound but at the same time, aching for their homeland. Only recently, Chris and I were sitting at the mall and saw a Syrian lady and her children. We thought to ourselves, “Imagine if we were forced to leave Branch tomorrow and move to Syria.” We would be despairing at the prospect of leaving our community and our families behind.

We often think of refugees as being so charmed by moving to a peaceful county but let’s not forget what they leave behind. Tangled up in the horrors of war is the familiar, the favorite trail to take a walk, the field where you met your husband, the lane where you played as a child. These trails and fields and lanes exist in Syria, too.

As Easter approaches and we are gently reminded of the magic of new beginnings, let us remember to live the welcoming words of Jesus “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Welcome these who come from faraway lands, eager to start again, just as the Irish did when they landed on these shores so many years ago. I hope the next time that I cross paths with this brave Syrian lady, she will tell me a new story of dreams coming true. And this time, I’ll slow down so she can understand me!

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