You are always here with me

This Monday the weather was grey and cool, and it was quiet at Petit-Château. Sarah and I arrived and had a friend already waiting to visit with us. We posted printouts of refugee songs on our poetry wall and then posted the song from the previous week with the intention of singing it together.

 

Plans often change in life, and our afternoons at the center are no exception. We wound up singing a song we wrote some time ago and then talking with a man from Azerbaijan through our friend from the previous week, who was able to interpret for us.

 

It turned out that this man had left his family three years earlier and had ever since been trying to find a country that would grant him asylum so he could then bring his family to safety in Europe. He tried in France and Germany and now found himself in Belgium.

 

He showed us a photo of his young son and daughter and described the uncertainty of their safety and his own asylum status. I tried to imagine having young children and being away from them for so long.

 

I suggested that perhaps we could write a song for his children and asked him what he might say to them. He spoke these words:

 

It’s been three long years

My eyes are full of tears

I cannot look at your pictures

 

I wrote his words on the paper and then he became so overwhelmed by emotion he had to leave.

 

I am not sure words can express the sorrow I felt for this man who was trying to do everything he could to ensure his family’s safety. My intention had been to create something meaningful he could share with his family, and I felt so awful for causing him further pain.

 

There is so much uncertainty in life. We are not in control, and yet the life of a refugee is every more precarious. I wonder how it is that a person does not have as a basic human right the ability to leave an unsafe situation and bring their family to a place of sanctuary. How is it that they must prove their worth to a foreign government? How is it that a man can be separated from his family for three long years and still be searching for a way to provide for their safety and eventual reunification?

 

With our friend from the previous week, we wrote a song to share with this resident in the hopes of offering something made from a place of love and hope.

 

These were the lyrics:

 

It’s been three long years

My eyes are full of tears

I cannot look at your picture

As a refugee, I live uncertainty

But you are always here with me

In my heart

 

We discussed many possible phrases and organization of the verses and also if we should write a chorus. I spoke about the songwriting method being one that honors the spoken words of people’s stories, which means the lines do not always rhyme.

 

We worked with the pentameter, which proved a bit challenging, particularly with the line we came up with about the uncertainties of life as a refugee. I talked about how it can be easier to sing fewer words but also that the meaning of the story can become lost if we cut out too many words from the original transcript.

 

We also played with the way the addition or deletion of one seemingly simple word could shift the entire meaning of phrase from negative to positive.

 

For example, we first wrote the line:

 

There are no words I can say

To help us through the day

But you are always here with me in my heart

 

Then we discussed deleting the word “no” from the phrase.

 

There are words I can say

To help us through the day

You are always here with me in my heart

 

This small change transformed the entire feeling of the stanza, and the final phrase became the words of love that lift the spirits of everyone in the family.

 

As usual, we wrote possible verses and then word and the order of phrasing changed as soon as we began to sing. We numbered the stanzas and drew arrows to guide us. Then, we passed instruments around and made a recording to send to the resident in the hopes that it might help him and his family to get through the day.

 

We did not end up writing a chorus. The phrase “You’re always here with me in my heart” became the repeating line at the end of each stanza, similar to the Beatles song “Eight days a week, I love you.”

 

This was the version we sang and recorded at the end of the session:

 

It’s been three long years

My eyes are full of tears

I cannot look at your picture

As a refugee

I live uncertainty

But you’re always here with me

In my heart

 

I’ve tried three different times

In three different countries

But still I have no answer

There are words I can say

To help us through the day

You’re always here with me in my heart

 

The things that make us sad

Can also bring us joy

This is what life is about

As a refugee

I live uncertainty

But you’re always here with me

In my heart

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