My paternal grandparents both emigrated from Germany. Each arrived alone, a teenager carrying a single suitcase. Each, like so many immigrants coming to the United States today, left behind family, homeland, first language and the familiarity that now fills my own life as the air that I breathe and the inheritance my grandparents passed on to me. Their story is but one of millions around the world replete with evidence of immigrants’ great sacrifices, of all that they relinquish in the pursuit of a future unseen and possibilities unproven. The immigrant story is not just about material loss but, perhaps more significantly, about the larger sacrifice of certainty that occurs when stepping onto the shifting ground of unfamiliar culture, language, customs and rules.
How quickly and easily I can forget that certainty is not a given. Nor is it always desirable or even possible when we are longing for and working toward a better life or a more just world.
The immigrant’s experience reminds us, it is sometimes necessary to leave the known world behind well before we have any idea what will replace it. To willingly accept the uncertainty that comes from moving forward out of hope and faith – as we do in steadfast love – not mindlessly but with our minds and hearts and lives hitched to something bigger.
When have you had an immigrant’s experience – letting go of what you now know with no guarantees about where you’re headed, letting your heart and your hopes lead you toward a better life, a deeper peace, or a more just world? This is not just a matter of geography, though for the millions today displaced by violence, disaster and poverty, there’s no denying, geography matters. For all of us, those on the move and those staying put, we are living in times that ask us to let go of the world we know so that we might build and discover the world as we want it to be.
Margaret Mead once noted that the accelerating pace of change has essentially made immigrants of us all, new arrivals in a world that is neither the one we were born into, nor even the one we inhabited ten years ago. This is even more true today than when she made her observation. Not just technologically, but environmentally and in a global realignment toward equality, we are all being challenged to learn new languages and customs in the journey toward justice and equity. To be awkward and clumsy as we adjust to new ways, new understandings and new rules that will make right relationship with others possible and true.
What unfamiliar terrain might be awaiting your arrival today, if you join the journey toward justice, toward peace, toward living in balance with the earth and other beings? If you were to draw a map of the land you are leaving behind – whether it’s the mountaintops of privilege or the swamps of injustice, the islands of individualism or the castles of consumerism – and a map of where you might be going, what might you learn about the gifts and the challenges of what lies ahead? What will you need for encouragement and support as you set sail from the shores you have known? What will serve as the stars and the compass that will guide you? And what new possibilities and companions might await you on the distant shores not yet visible?