It was a snowy night in Seattle.
From what I’ve been told this isn’t a common way to start a story about Seattle, but it is certainly the way this one must begin.
It was a snowy night in Seattle. I was waiting for my airport shuttle standing on the snow covered sidewalk, preparing myself for a lovely Seattle experience the next day.
“This is going to pass by tomorrow,” I told myself, “Just in time for my adventures!”
My feet were starting to become numb from having direct contact with the slush on the ground. There I stood with my guitar and backpack on the sidewalk in flip flops waiting for the shuttle. As each minute passed I wondered if I would ever thaw out again. I called the hotel several times hoping this would cause the shuttle to appear quicker, but alas it was not to be.
I was ready to be in my hotel room, in bed, asleep. I had just spent the last week with my family on one of the hardest trips i’ve ever had to make, living in the memory of one of the greatest men i’d ever known, my grandfather. I also spent most of the day in the airport listening to commentary on refugees, immigrants and the temporary travel ban that the current administration had put into place. How its a good thing, or how its a bad thing, how this will change the world as we know it and other forms of positive and negative rhetoric. I was over all the conversation before it even started.
While all this was running through my head the shuttle finally arrived. Out steps a man with dark skin and an accent. He comes around and opens the door for me, I hop in, and we are off towards the hotel.
“I am so sorry for the wait. This is not normal here in Seattle and I am not used to driving in these conditions,” He said to me as he slowly made his way through the slush.
“Oh not a problem at all. Seems like no one is really used to these conditions,” I said as I looked out the window at the faint tire marks across the unplowed roads.
“Its not something I’ve seen a lot of since I’ve been living here,” he said.
“Where are you from originally?” I asked.
“I came here from Somalia,” He said with pride in his voice, “but I’ve been here for 17 years. I was running away from the Civil War.”
I knew about the Somalian Civil War from the news I heard growing up during the Clinton Administration and watching movies like Black Hawk Down. Of course it has been in the news lately, as well, as the war continues to rage even after 17 years and close to 1 million lives lost.
He had left family behind in Somalia. He told me that his family back in Somalia is alright though, because he sends money home to them and they don’t have to worry too much about life. They avoid the war and have enough money to meet their basic needs.
In just a 10 minute shuttle ride he shared with me about how everyone in Africa has a small business and a gun. That the majority of the people don’t pay taxes, because they don’t have a government to collect it.
“There is very little law and order back home, so everyone sells what they have to offer by way of their trade and takes care of the rest with their gun.”
Some of the people he knows are connected with the Somali Pirates and come to America just to live like Americans do in the movies. They come here and blow their money only to realize that most people don’t live like they do in the movies or in Rap music.
He specifically pointed out the influence of Rap music and how most people he knows, who have money, use this as their goal in life, to live like what the rappers in America rap about.
As I sat in the back of the van listening to this mans story, of how he was able to make it out of the war in a foreign land and build a life for himself and for his family here in America, I just had to think about all that I had been hearing throughout the day. Whatever airport news channel was on, it was all just hate for one side of the issue or the other. As I said earlier, I was over all the chit chat before it even started.
I didn’t know if this man was a muslim or a christian, nor did i really care. What I cared about in that moment was that this mans life was safe and he was working to create safety for others. What I cared about was how he’d been able to make a life here in America for 17 years. Away from mass genocide. Away from the place where he lost family members because of religious feuds. Away from what i’ve only seen in the movies. I cared that he was alive.
I could only imagine what this man was thinking about what is happening in the country.
I leaned forward and said, “Well I may be 17 years late on this, but welcome to America and I’m glad you are safe.”
“Thank You,” He said.
Earlier I was praying to God that He would find a way to warm my feet as I stood on that snowy sidewalk in my flip flops, but He knew I needed something more. He warmed my heart with a man and his story. A story of freedom from oppression. A story of a land of possibilities that opened its doors to someone who needed it. This is the story of America.
I was shaken that night on my ride to my hotel. I was reminded of a simple narrative and what it means to the world. I pray that we individually open our doors and love like Jesus did. Sacrificially. Open Arms. Forgiving one another. Never shutting the door on possibility. Never shutting the doors on those in need.
Syrian Refugees in Damascus, Syria