Forced From Home

This morning, after dropping the big kids off at school, the twins and I walked downtown. Clear blue skies. Birds still chirping. Passerbys sipping pumpkin spice lattes. That kind of gorgeous fall day when I recognize and feel grateful for living when and where I do.

The feeling continued once we arrived at our destination: the “Forced From Home” exhibit installed by Doctors Without Borders. The traveling exhibit brings the refugee experience to the middle of relatively prosperous and well equipped large American cities. Over the course of an hour, the twins and I engaged with stories, photos, and materials that represent what some of the world’s 68 million refugees experience on a daily basis.

My tour guide encouraged us to think about a few things we would bring if our home was no longer safe. Given only a minute to choose, I would bring along:

  1. Cell phone – God forbid my husband and I get separated in a foreign land. A cell phone would hopefully make it possible for us to stay together.
  2. Passport
  3. Money
  4. A blanket
  5. Shoes

But the above items don’t even account for the needs of my children, most of whom are too small to carry anything of great importance on their backs. How could I possibly pack enough diapers for the twins? And what about snacks and water, both of which can be very heavy? And, would we need blankets for chilly nights spent outdoors? Or sunscreen for blistering days in the sun? How about the band-aids that help them feel better when they get an imaginary bump on the knee?

Let’s not forget all the non-essentials that make life feel important. Family photos. Baby books. Medical records. Musical instruments and treasured toys. A few books would be nice. And the heirloom jewelry of no great monetary value from my grandmother. I’d want to bring all of this.

But, as the exhibit demonstrated, the most important items to bring across a dangerous border are the people I love. Refugees all over the world are fleeing danger, hunger, and religious persecution simply to have the chance at a good life with their families. My birth in a first world country is a great fortune I don’t have the right to deny other people. Seeking safety is not a crime.

At the end of the exhibit I had the opportunity to write a note to a Doctors Without Borders volunteer. I was initially at loss for words. How do I properly thank a person 10,000 miles away who is doing perhaps the most selfless and important work?


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