I’m a WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon protestant) with a middle class English accent. I was educated at a girls’ London day school and live in a leafy suburb of one of the lovelies cities in the US. Definitely not your stereotypical refugee or displaced person. The fact that I live in a politically and economically stable country (despite their blatant mis-use of the English language!) should exclude me from being a forced migrant whose citizenship has been revoked, cancelled, invalidated, retracted, withdrawn and deemed null and void.
And yet that’s exactly how I feel. Displaced; Forced to leave my native place. And to top it all, there’s no going back.
I’ll admit that I felt terribly homesick when we returned to England this summer. Cream teas, rolling hill, century old buildings, culture oozing out of every pavement crack and laughing with old friends and family will do that to a girl whose blood is as English as Shakespeare and Monty Python. So I’ve started describing myself as “Mid Atlantic”. Despite being called to America I still don’t feel like I belong here 100%. And logically, I was simultaneously called from England, and yet I don’t feel like I belong back there 100% either. Hence my new residency; mid-Atlantic!
But it’s not geographical or cultural displacement that I’m talking about. Cold beer /warm beer, sidewalk/pavement and even rocket/arugula and eraser/rubber, can be mastered in time, and I wasn’t forced to leave England. I came of my own free will. And mercifully my UK citizenship and passport are still very valid.
But I did leave somewhere under duress. With a gun to my back … or more truthfully, a scope to my backside, I left the land of the fit and healthy. I was forced to leave the subgroup of society known in medical circles as “the general public”. Rectal cancer shot me out from the security of being cancer free onto a journey that included “newly diagnosed”, “patient” and “survivor”. Never again will I be able to return to the safety of being a citizen and a statistic in my native land of “general public – fit and healthy”. Its borders are closed, my citizenship revoked and my passport destroyed.
I liked my native land. Citizenship had loads of perks. I belonged. I knew the people. I knew the rules of the land. I didn’t need to be constantly alert to the exact location and queue length of the nearest loo and I certainly didn’t have the fear of recurrence following me around like a foreboding shadow. Life wasn’t always easy, especially when my loved ones were suddenly forced to leave the land and were displaced a head of me. But I felt safe there. I was happy.
This new land, with its unfamiliar citizenship, feels strange. Like stiff new shoes not yet softened by constant wearing it’s giving me blisters. However, I’ve made some brilliant new friends who, like me, have been displaced and own the same frightening passport. My old friends, with their “general public – fit and healthy” citizenship, never abandoned me for a second, and the journey has had some unexpectedly hilarious moments. But it doesn’t change the fact that I’m here, under duress, in the land of “cancer survivor”, ever watchful of things changing again for the worse.
My Dad likes to say that he’d rather have a full bottle in front of him, than a full frontal lobotomy! Which always makes me smile and remember that so much of life is in our heads. Since finding a tumor up my unmentionable orifice I haven’t moved geographically and I haven’t had to leave my family behind. I’m back to doing most of the things that keep me sane and prevent me committing stress related manslaughter and I’m still here on planet Earth. I’m alive and kicking and very much in the land of the living (not to mention the brave and the free). I haven’t even had to give up my much prized UK citizenship.
So maybe I’ll leave the full bottle (a full bodied Claret or a fresh Sancere?!) to my dad and opt for the mind shift. Maybe the citizenship that I need to focus on is not a medical one, or a geographical one or even an earthly one. But a heavenly one. After all, I’m a citizen of heaven (Phil 3:20) and if I can set my mind on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3: 2), I know I’ll gain a better perspective of my new home. It wont change the reality that I am a rectal cancer survivor – that I have a greater chance than the “general public” of getting it again, that I have an intimate knowledge of toilet paper and soothing chaff creams, or that I get to have colonoscopies more frequently than the rest of you. But it can alter how I feel about all that. And that, dear friends, will be life changing.
If you’ve been forced to leave your native place, whether that’s geographical, emotional or medical, for any reason, let me encourage you to focus on “things above” to get a little perspective. I like to play worship music unsociably loud when I’m alone in the house, or repeat my compilation verses (like “You are my rock and salvation, my fortress and my strength”). Sometimes all I can manage is to just breathe in Jesus and breathe out the fear/anger/resentment/jealousy (insert your own negative emotion if mine don’t fit you!). And often my prayer just says “Dear Lord … arrrrggghhhhh!” But I find that just doing something to help shift my gaze ever so slightly upwards gives me a glimmer of peace or joy or freedom and that really motivates me to keep on looking up. And when I look up, and feel that peace and joy, I find it so much easier to “always look on the bright side of life”… and whistle along.
Try it. It really works!