I’ve been listening to the stories of young immigrants lately.
To me they sound to me a lot like the classic tales of the spiritual journey of life. Not so religious really, but they are all about awakening.
L. arrived here five years ago from Iran, the young wife of a physician husband taking up his medical residency. Before two years had elapsed she and her husband had divorced, not exactly what anyone had scripted for this adventure. Yet she calls the divorce “the best thing I ever did.” She decided not to go home to Tehran. Maybe it has something to do with the opportunities she has here as a woman in this more secular and open culture. Yet still she misses her home and family and sometimes thinks about going home.
G., a twenty-year-old man from the Philippines, plays guitar in a heavy metal band. He came with his family at the age of fifteen. He admits it was tough learning an entirely new culture in the middle of his teens�new words, new rules, new ways of acting and thinking, new ways of navigating the world. It was like being a kid all over again, learning it all over from scratch. But he’s content to be in the States now, though he sees himself going back to the Philippines for short periods, maybe even a couple of years at a time.
O. had it all in Colombia. She was a successful businesswoman in her early thirties with an apartment, a car, and a pretty comfortable life. But the civil war threatened to take everything away, and she saw that there was no future for her there. So she left everything and joined her sister’s family and her mother in the United States. Now she cares for her toddler nephew with none of the independence or glamour of her former life. Yet far from being resentful, she says she feels grateful for the chance to see life from a totally different point of view.
None of these three set out on a traditional spiritual quest; none mentioned much of God or spirituality in telling his or her story; but for all the journey to a new land shook them from their comfortable existence and brought to them a life they did not plan for or expect. Each had to start over. Each had to let go. Yet all found themselves wiser and even grateful for the things that they had learned.
Their stories remind me that life is about change, transformation. In our comfort we forget that. It is frequently only that which shakes us to our foundations that can truly change us; only that which brings us face-to-face with uncontrollable Mystery that can really create in us a new heart.