“I will never forgive you, Katherine Paterson. I’ll continue to read everything you write and cherish every word, every story. But I will never forgive you.”
I wrote those words my bookmark while reading The Day of the Pelican. A riveting historical fiction story, written by Ms. Paterson, that opens in the spring of 1998…
Meli Lleshi and her Albanian family lived in Kosovo, a country bravely fighting off Serbian oppressors. To avoid the conflict, they left their comfortable apartment home to live in the country, far from friends and school and the family business. They moved into the cramped home of their grandparents, believing this displacement would be temporary and that they would soon return to their quiet life.
As the conflict continued, young Meli could not understand the crushing hate slowly suffocating her world. But when Serbian soldiers burst through the door of the tiny and insignificant country home, demanding jewelry and valuables, she felt the weight of the horror first hand.
The entire family was forced to walk away and leave everything behind. They carried the tiny ones and pushed grandmother in a wheelbarrow. They left everything.
But that seemed not enough. Not far into the unknown darkness, the family turned back and watched in despair as the family home was burned to the ground by the sadistic intruders.
But why? Why confiscate their home, only to burn it down?
Meli’s older brother muttered the answer. So there’ll be no place to come home to when this is over.
No place to come home to. The book lowered into my lap as I crumpled into a heap, unable to stop the tears, unable to pick up the book for days.
I am convinced that those few words, uttered by a young character in a children’s book, would affect me for years to come, in ways I didn’t understand. I knew nothing about the life of refugees. Even as an adult with almost unlimited access to the news, I had no idea what the rest of the world was enduring.
In fact, it wasn’t until the recent humanitarian crisis we watched unfold on the news and the internet that I realized the depth of despair in which people were living – caused by the deepest evil roaming all around, devouring the innocent. Conflict, drought, and natural disasters continue to force an ever-increasing number of people out of their homes. And many can never return. They live endless years in camps and on the run.
Good golly, Miss Molly. They can’t go home.
Why did it take me so long to figure this out? For as long as I can remember, the place I would rather be than anywhere else is my home. Tim and I don’t keep a busy social life. We don’t go out a lot, and I don’t find reasons to get in the car and dash about town. I love “that home feeling.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do like to visit the homes of my friends. I enjoy seeing them in their own environment, discovering what is important to them, how they choose to decorate and arrange, what keeps them cozy. Yes, please, invite me over.
But don’t be surprised when I am among the first to say my good-byes and hurry out the door.
I want to be home.
I will probably never be a close-up witness to refugee camps. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to be one of the five million Syrian refugees who fled civil violence, or the six million who remain displaced within their own country – more than half of them children. I will most likely not be on the plane or helicopter dropping supplies or transporting the most critically ill. I might not be serving desperately-needed meals or distributing coats and boots.
But I can do something. I can help the very few refugees who make it to this country – the land of promise. I can do that.
And that, my lovelies, is what drew me to the Re:new Project, a small but powerful organization in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, that “equips, employs and engages refugee women living in America.”
And that is why I’m bugging y’all to consider joining the 100 Extraordinary Women crowd-funding campaign.* The money raised – our goal is $100,000 – will finance the training, equipping, and hiring of four more artisans who will learn to create hand-crafted products to sell in the small store front on Main Street. Learn more here.
These lovely women come from all over the world, where they were business owners, teachers, midwives, and mothers. And they will likely never be able to return to their homelands.
But here they are joined by other strong women who passionately fight for their families, work hard, make a difference. They continue to be industrious, learning a new language, understanding social customs, navigating the complexities of mortgages and financial institutions, willing to start over.
They are women who sought refuge here. Not just a place to be. Not just a place to survive.
They are giving their families a sense of permanence and security, a sense of balance and purpose.
They are creating homes. There is nothing – NOTHING – more worthy.