It could have been so different

While politicians quarrel and people die trying to get to Canada, many of us see traces of our own family histories in the Syrian refugee crisis.

As a parent, I am so so lucky.

My tiny person, just a few months shy of three years old, is asleep in his bed. He is cuddly, he is warm and cozy, blankets atop him, golden curls slightly sweaty and coiled, sleeping soundly, occasionally reaching out for snuggles and nums. We go to bed and he says he “Can’t wait! Can’t wait for nuggles and nums! Can’t wait for Mommy!”

He is safe. He is warm. He has food. He has shelter. He is loved.

I am so so lucky.

As a parent, the images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi awash on the shore burned into me. As a parent, I cried for the loss of this tiny boy — him and his brother. I cried for the loss his family is experiencing and grieving, the future that will never be known. It’s a loss that as a parent, it’s too much to even imagine. 

Truly, unimaginable.

As a parent, I am overwhelmed with desire and want and need to help all of these people — the tiny people and the big people alike, who are struggling to come here, to go anywhere, for a better life.

It’s a situation that hits close to home

My tiny boy comes from a family of immigrants. He is descended from refugees, or “displaced people”, as they were called back then. I am the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants. My grandparents made the long journey to Canada after World War II, originally coming from what was then Yuguslavia, and the Ukraine. They left hometowns that no longer exist, that were destroyed just days after they left during the war.

My father was born in Vienna, in a hospital, after my grandparents had been living in a refugee camp following the war. In the years between my father’s birth and his family’s immigration to Canada when he was eight years old, their family grew to include even more children as they moved through France, trying to find their way to Canada.

It took them that many years to get here, years that included the births of more children and many, many moves, all the while trying to find a home, trying to find a place to simply be. Eventually they were sent to British Columbia, and the rest is history. 

They worked hard and made a life. The family did not know English when they arrived; my father started school while my grandparents worked to make a living. My grandparents owned their own businesses and contributed to their town and to the economy. They had more children. They now have grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

To look at my father, to look at me, at my cousins, my aunts and uncles, and my child, one would likely never even question or ask where we are from. They might not ask our history. They just see us all as contributing persons, as “Canadians”.

It could have been so different though.

My grandmother had a brother that stayed in Germany; we have an extensive extended family in Germany now. Because of injuries sustained during the war, he was unable to leave, unable to get the required papers to immigrate. He did not meet the immigration requirements of the time.

How different it could have been. So very different.

It would have only taken one person to say “no” to my grandparents, one piece of missing paperwork, a lack of adequate funds — so many factors that could have intervened in our family’s fortunate outcome.

But because of their journey, because of their luck, because of the system at the time, because of so many things, my tiny person is asleep in our bed, here in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador — a place that I am grateful to call my home. A place that I am in love with.

There are naysayers who say we shouldn’t allow refugees into Canada. They question where they are from, what their politics are, what their ideologies are. They ask how they might contribute to our economy, where they will get their money from, and whether they think they should have access to healthcare.

 They forget that we’re a country made up of immigrants, from all over the world. And they forget that people are dying.

But they forget that we’re a country made up of immigrants, from all over the world.

And they forget that people are dying.

People like that tiny three-year-old boy.

Alan Kurdi is not the first child to have drowned on a journey to a better life, or to have died due to lack of access to medication or healthcare. Or to have died from violence. Or starvation.

Because they all just want a better life. It’s really what we all want — each of us, here in our happy homes, our safe places. We are all simply dreaming and working for a good life each and every day.

How can we be so insensitive to forget that need in other people, especially those who are being subjected to war?

How can we be so selfish to question their motives? Whatever brings people here — whether it’s war and violence, job opportunities, or simply wanting to try a new place — to leave one’s home is no small thing. To leave the place where you were born, where you grew up, is no small thing.

To leave somewhere because you no longer have a home, to try to seek out a new home, a better life, is an experience beyond what most of us can imagine.

And yet, if it were not for the courage of my grandparents to seek out a new home, to try to make a home and build a sense of place and a new life for their family, I would not be here today. My tiny person most certainly would not be here today.

If only we—the people, the politicians, the policy-makers—could truly get in touch with our deepest compassions and our own humanity, just a little, what a difference we could make in someone’s life.

What value we could add to our country—to our homes and our lives—if we welcomed people, as our family was welcomed to Canada only decades ago.

So here I am, snuggling my tiny person, so very, very grateful for his existence, for his continued safety, for the gift of him. Truly what a gift it is — my life, his life, our lives here together.

It could have been so very different.

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