FTIAT: Two ships
Renee (Life in the Boomer Lane) writes mirthful, subversive critiques of the media that make me wish she were responsible for all news, everywhere. I said as much the first time I read her blog, and wish it even more strongly now.
I was anxious when I invited her to guest post. I didn’t dare dream she’d actually say “yes,” but rejoiced when she did.
Beneath her wit runs compassion that is so much more than words. I am thankful she uses her words in all the ways she does: to speak out against injustice, to poke good-hearted fun, to encourage. It was at Renee’s urging that I wrote about my experiences testifying in court as a child; through that writing, I not only learned but increased my strength. For this I am and will ever be thankful to Renee.
Recommended post: The Day I Shook Hands with the Dalai Lama
In the midst of the riches that surround me, of family and friends and health and purpose, I am thankful for two moments in time that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with my life.
Years before I was born, two children, one in Poland and one in Russia, each stepped onto a different ship. One was a girl, eight years old. The other a boy, thirteen. The eight year old was alone. There was no family to hold her hand. There was no family to stand at the dock and wish her well as she departed. She probably had a card either pinned to her clothing, or hung on a cord or rope from her neck. The card would have had her name and little else. She would have been surrounded by other children, all duly identified. She wouldn’t have known where she was going, and she wouldn’t have known what would happen to her after she arrived.
The uncertainty of where she was going or what would happen when she arrived might not have been unexpected. In her short life, she was used to uncertainty and to the knowledge that the security of family was a gift given to others and not to her. From birth, her understanding of parents or family was limited to the people in her village, almost all of whom could point to others and say “To these people I am connected. To this family I belong.” In a place where people spoke of “my grandfather” and “my grandfather’s grandfather” and defined themselves solely in this way, she was connected only to herself.
That her mother died in childbirth was a fact she had been told, just as she was told the sun rose in the morning and set at night. It is difficult to experience an absence when one has never experienced the presence. That her father abandoned her shortly after the birth may or may not have been told to her. The name on the cardboard she wore was that of a wealthy man in her village. It was a name given to her perhaps to ensure good luck. It wasn’t a name that a parent had given.
The thirteen year old was luckier. He was traveling with his mother, a woman who birthed him late in life and who was now a widow. Her other children, all grown, had families of their own. Years before, two sisters and a brother had made the same journey the boy was about to make. For that reason, he knew there would be family waiting when he and his mother arrived at their destination. But he would have been too young to have remembered them very well. His mother was all he knew.
He also knew that he was expected to step into his father’s shoes and become the breadwinner. The thought of being an adult didn’t scare him. The events he had witnessed and the people he had lost in his young life had meant an end to his innocence at a very early age. He might have thought that the price of instant adulthood was a small one to pay. He might have hoped that where he was going, young adults wouldn’t be lined up in one of the town squares and shot. He might have hoped that small children wouldn’t have to hide when soldiers went on their all-too-predictable killing sprees. Or, it is possible he may have wondered if where he was going could be even worse.
Over and over, I replay in my head the two moments in time when the first of each of their feet, the boy and the girl, stepped onto the worn, oiled wood of the gangplank. When, in that one moment, while the other foot was still on the ground, they existed in two worlds, one known and the other unknown. It is into that space that my thoughts keep returning. But I will never know their thoughts.
The girl might have hoped against hope that a loving father would be waiting, and that a family would be there that would become her family. The boy might have hoped against hope that his new life of a grown man’s responsibility might also include the possibility of an education that had been denied to him. Each of them, the boy and the girl, whatever hopes and fears entwined like battling lovers taking hold of their hearts, would still place that next foot on the gangplank and in so doing, walk into the rest of their lives.
It was that initial moment that led to all the others that followed. That a girl who was unloved would grow into a woman whose love for her daughter was fierce and abundant. That a boy who was never able to get past his own fear would grow into a man who would allow his daughter to take brave steps to get past her own. That each of them, the boy and the girl, would, from insecurity and from loss, together build a life of security and of love for their daughter.
For this I am thankful.