“We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it though we tried to fight it”- Billy Joel
It has been a while since I’ve written. It’s finally happened, I thought. I have nothing to say. But that wasn’t it at all. It’s like the mess in my garage. When getting the basement done, everything got taken out to the garage, a lot of good things mixed in with a lot of junk. Now there is so much ‘stuff’ in there I don’t know where to begin sorting them out. So I go in there, look around, touch a few things, smile at the memories, put them back, walk out of there and close the door.
2017 was like that. A lot of good, a lot of bad, a lot of ‘stuff’ for my mind to sort through and put into words. Seasons changed, routine set in, a whole year went by and the new year is no longer new. Time forges ahead and with it, progress. But human beings seem to go round in circles. Entertainment takes many forms- ‘This is us’, ‘Padmavati’, FOX News. Life and Trump push me again and again to take pause and introspect on the value of family, relationships and what it means to be an immigrant in today’s America.
We came to the US twenty five years ago because the opportunity presented itself. We came in search of an adventure, not for a better life. We gave ourselves a deadline and lost ourselves in a country that was so welcoming of foreigners. We decided that 5 years was a good time to experience a different culture on the other side of the world, before heading back home. Because life was pretty wonderful back there and we had left the people we loved to come here.
From the moment I stepped out of the airport one bright September afternoon, I fell in love with this country. My jet lagged sleep deprived mind was in awe of the clear blue skies that felt low enough to touch. The idea that I was on the other side of the globe was thrilling and I kept pinching myself because it felt like a dream. Everything was different, fascinating. Creaky wooden floor boards, the purple of the leaves, the silence and order- the libraries and bookstores. The massiveness of open land, clothing sizes, people’s friendliness, food portions and ice cream tubs.
I walked into a near empty one bedroom apartment and in my mind it still is the most beautiful place I had ever seen. We lived there for a year. A year of ‘firsts’. The first snowfall, my first driver’s license, super bowl when I first pretended to understand American football, the first time being very broke and very happy. We had friends and sleeping bags all over the tiny apartment. I learned to cook in a kitchen that was compact, convenient and fitted two people if they stood back to back. It was like playing house and I got just as much fun out of it as if I was.
5 years flew by, work permit changed to Green card, we bought a cozy condo in a lake front community, we had a baby and being broke was neither fun, nor an option. Almost without our knowledge, life was turning a corner, getting into the next phase. Discussion about the deadline didn’t happen much anymore, the kitchen accommodated more than two, we had real furniture and real friends. Although I continued to pretend to understand American foot ball, time to ‘play’ at life was coming to an end. We bought a forever home and baby #2 came along.
One foot here and another in India, we pretty much straddled the world. Commitments and pieces of heart were now strewn equally and the deadline far behind us. People ask if I’ve encountered issues as an immigrant. Truth is that I wouldn’t have noticed. I come from a country where prejudices of all sorts were so deeply woven into the fabric of society and for so many centuries, one no longer recognized or acknowledged it. A country of many religions, castes, sects, languages, skin color, man made divisions aplenty. A country of raw emotions where one knew exactly what the person standing in front of you thought about you.
Making eye contact with someone here meant an instant smile and I assumed I was loved and welcomed. It felt good. I had no reason to question my sense of belonging. Many years later my girls were at the library and someone told them to go back to wherever they came from. After that day I started noticing what prejudice sounds, looks and feels like, no matter how well hidden behind smiles and education. I notice how desperate it is to find expression. And how successfully it is unleashed when politicians use it to their advantage.
It’s like the mess in my garage. There wasn’t one till I created it.
But enough about American politics. I have something way more fun to pretend to understand- American football! It’s Super Bowl Sunday! Go birds!