With the recent very cold front that has swept over my little corner of Belgium, it’s difficult to imagine the warmth and sunshine that illuminated my November 25 Monday visit to Petit-Château was warm and sunny. As I sit and write from my kitchen table, a cup of coffee and big, white husky at my side, there is frost on the ground outside and a grey, cloud-filled sky overhead.
It is a rare event in Belgium in November to be too warm while standing outdoors. My co-volunteer, Sarah, and I create our “office” under a covered corridor at the asylum center. We do this in part so we are visible to residents. The center is so large that if we were hidden in a warm, cozy classroom somewhere it would be more difficult to attract participants in our poetry and songwriting sessions. The residents are busy with medical visits, interviews for the asylum process, meetings with social workers, picking their kids up from school.
We also work outside so we are in a space that has no doors. It is a safety zone for creative expression and art, a place where we can all be who we are without fear of judgment or being seen as an “other.”
On this afternoon, we met many residents. One was a man who we discovered (with the help of the center staff) spoke Portuguese and who was not able to see. We had tried to show him the translation from English into Portuguese of our poetry and songwriting process, and he just nodded and did not respond. Of course he did not respond. How did not we not recognize this? There are so many opportunities for the practice of awareness and paying attention—to the people we meet, our surroundings, and beyond. It was no accident, of course. We meant well. We have the best of intention for the time we spend at the center each Monday afternoon. Here was a reminder that all is not always as it seems.
Sarah passed around Oreo cookies for everyone to munch on. A mother with a child in a wheelchair offered one to her daughter.
The father of the family, who turned out to be from El Salvador, spoke with us in English and shared a little of his story. He came to Belgium in the hopes of being able to find medical treatment for his daughter so she could walk again. She was in a wheelchair and not able to communicate with us. The husband’s wife watched over her while I wrote his words on the piece of paper Sarah had taped to the wall.
I continue to wonder at the strange irony of meeting migrants from Central and South America in an EU country rather than the United States. I am, as ever, honored by the gift of meeting people in search of a better life and wish them welcome and “bon courage” as they follow this new chapter of their lives.
Me mejor sueño
Es ver a mi hija caminar
My greatest dream
Is to see my daughter walk again
I wrote his words and suggested a possible refrain we might sing by repeating the words Algun dia/Someday and then adding the line: Ella caminara, algun dia/She will walk again, someday
I said that perhaps setting the intention that this would come to pass might add power to the wish we were singing into being for his daughter.
Algun dia, algun dia
Ella caminara algun dia
She will walk again, someday
I asked the father if he might be willing to try singing the words of any part of the song so I could hear his voice connected with the story and melody that would come from deep within him.
He did sing. And then we sang together, breathing life into the words from our hearts.
After sharing writing this song of hope, the father said to me, I feel strange in my body.
I explained to him that emotions could come up with the sharing of a story and that he was safe and very brave. People are often surprised to experience emotions coming up as they share what may or may not seem like a difficult story from their lives.
This father gave me a very long, deeply meaningful hug as he and wife and daughter left our creative space to carry on with their day. He hugged Sarah and told us both, God bless you. I felt that I was the one who had been given the gift and blessing in meeting this family with all of their hopes, fears, and vulnerability in leaving their home, their family and friends, and everything they knew in search of the chance that their daughter might walk again.
Each visit to Petit-Chateau and each new person I meet is a precious gift. I am blessed with sharing moments of life, authentic in all of its uncertainty, beauty, sadness, and joy. May everything beautiful come with ease to these courageous parents and their child.