Christmas in the camps. That’s what I was going to call this piece. The camps, that central fixture of my life. Oh, sure, not like their camps. Of course. Ours have cable TV, internet – air conditioning, food and pools and bars. Theirs have – well nothing really.
But camps are camps. Trapped, held in a tight embrace by the need and terror and violence – by the crushing vulnerability. By the relentless evil of our enemies.
They are home – those who we have crossed an ocean to serve. To be sure, a home that has become a nightmare of hunger and sadness and death; but home nonetheless. I am far from home – but somehow their home has become my little boy’s home, who can imagine that? “Where are you from?” I asked him yesterday, trying to tease from his tiny tongue the response “Virginia” or “Arizona” or even “Colorado”. “Mali?” he said, a question that was even wrong – those were the last set of camps, an earlier evil, a previous fight in a land that knew me for a time until she forgot. But I did not forget. Neither did my son, apparently.
So we become trapped, again – Christmas under African skies, again. Far from home, again. Still. No escape, no way out even if there was one. I am not supposed to be bitter, juxtaposed as that miserable little emotion is against so great a suffering. Do we have the right to our feelings, we who are the travelers? Me, who wanders unnoticed through the endless parade of camps past and present as I remember my future and what it will hold. They say you can’t remember the future, those whose days are not filled with the brutal violence punctuating extended periods of boredom. Nostalgia. They say you can’t be nostalgic for memories you’ve never had, that those are – well something else really.
So here we are, far away – so profound a difference for the future of my son – as we try to make common cause with the suffering in the only ways we know how. But can a sojourner ever truly fight so local an evil? Fighting the evil on their behalf? Because they are powerless to do so themselves?
I don’t know.
Perhaps we are powerless too? Perhaps home-grown evil trumps visiting goodness? Come to think of it, I guess the author of Christmas himself learned all this. And I’m hit with an epiphany; if Christmas was started by a trip across a long expanse to sit, bored and tired and trapped in a harsh and brutal land – a sacrifice for a prize not his own – is not my own Christmas more in following with the original tradition anyway?
Food for thought.
So as I experience another Christmas far from home; far from the smells and the sounds and the simple pleasures of my own land, which I have known only as a visitor too; I can’t help but be a little sad and a little nostalgic for a life that I’ve never had. That my son will never have either. This is not a great sorrow, sheer like a mountain or deep like the crushing ocean. It is a wretched little sorrow on a hot day when it should be snowing. So Merry Christmas to those who are with family in the gentleness of home. And if you find yourself overwhelmed for a second with the festivities, if you seek out a quiet moment of solitude away from the merriment, give a thought – if only a short simple prayer – to those of us trapping each other in the camps. Rest assured many of us sure are thinking about you.