November has come like an 19th Century taskmaster in an unforgiving boarding school. Cold awakened me at 3 a.m. seeping through the walls. The full moon light outside the windows looked and felt icy, the light shaded a faint pale blue rather than the usual soft glow of yellow. The first snow came as a thin blanket, not enough to help insulate the herbs I’d hoped to keep going a little longer. With this temperature plummet they may not survive at all and Spring, a damn long way from now, will mean tiny bedding plants rather than strong wintered-over stock. Such is life in northern climbs, only now the proof of erratic weather conditions predicted by climate change scientists feels more true each day. How easy it is to forget September and October were glorious and often warm; what feels like an abrupt plunge may be that the natural order of things is restored and this cold is appropriate. No. I don’t believe that either.
I went to hear a speaker, a young immigrant man who told his miraculous story of winning the Diversity Immigrant Green Card Visa lottery, a program targeted for elimination by the current administration. Twenty million people apply for this lottery worldwide and one hundred and twenty thousand are initially selected then whittled down to half that. This was the number of immigrants and refugees who actually got to come to this country five years ago when he won his chance to fulfill his coming-to-America dream. I am one of we oddly faceted humans, dimly aware of and feeling awful about, the plight of a million refugees and still don’t DO anything, yet a singular story told in person holds me (and those in the room) in attentive awe, the story opening our hearts to the plight of many. A young man stood at a podium describing situations we’d never imagined, our consciousness awakening in tingling shock, our taken-for-granted richness, our privileged lives in contrast, hanging in the large room, an audience touched–at least for the moment–by more than a little shame. Did we not know? Yet our lack is not as much evidence of our guilt but rather more his telling of his joy, courage, and determination in being here, his brother permanently denied the same path, his mother never to come, leaving him without family, braving the uphill climb to adaptation, education and earning money as a translator to send money back to help feed a village of others.
Is this not a November story? Thanksgiving is not a holiday in a land frequented by drought and killing hunger yet the concept of the holiday alone is proof of American bounty. His is the story of stressed possibility, amazement at his good fortune, a continuance of joy despite hardship, of thanks through adversity, survival, and what comes after.
Later, snuggled under blankets in the dark night of winter’s first plunge, I wonder about one part of his story, of coming from a hot, dry climate and landing is such a frigid one, one more hurdle in rebuilding a life out of impossible odds.
To read his story: Abdi Nor Iftin [with Max Alexander]. Call Me American: A Memoir. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.