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Wednesday, April 15, 2015


"Dear Lord, don't let Billy's memories remain anchors that he has to drag along. Turn them to treasures he can carry with him."

This prayer by a friend of Billy Sprague is one of the most profound things I have ever read in my life. It resonated with me when I read it as a teenager in Ragamuffin Prayers. I remembered moving back to Canada from Senegal at age 12, giving up my friends and my dreams of growing up on the edge of the Sahara, and I realized that I needed those memories to be treasures, not anchors that made me bitter.

Now I've moved back to Canada again, from the other edge of the Sahara. These days, it is becoming something of a mantra, and I pray it every single day. "God let my memories become treasures I can carry with me." Right now they feel like stones on my heart, crushing me with their weight. At other times they just remind me of the holes in my life where all the things and people I lost used to be.

I remember a day when I was 13, almost a year after we had moved back to Canada the first time. I was behind our rented house when I spotted a patch of delicate blue forget-me-nots. They seemed like a reminder to me to keep those I had left behind in my heart, but to make room for new relationships, no matter what the future held.

Since then, I've never tried to keep my distance from the people I write about, live among, and love. I've never been good at NOT becoming a part of the culture I'm in, at staying away from seeking out the beating heart of a city, even for my own emotional good. That's just not who I am.

I think that's why I burned out so fast. I had the privilege of speaking to Western University's International Reporting class for the third (fourth?) time last month. One of the things I talked about was the toll that being a journalist in a foreign country can take on you. I wrote about this in my last post, and it's one of the reasons why I am now back in Canada.

But being back in Canada brings its own challenges. I get really confused sometimes over basic everyday interactions, because they are so unlike what I've been used to for the past three years. Small stresses can overwhelm me because of the things hovering just below the surface.

Not many people talk about moving as a loss, but it very much is one. When a person dies, you take the time and space to mourn them. It's expected. But what about when what has died is your way of life, your connection to a community, and your relationships in the ways that you have known them? To me that is a different kind of loss than losing someone to death, but it goes just as deep. Life will never be the same, and that is something to mourn and heal from.

And those people I couldn't keep my distance from? I miss their smiles, their warmth, their presence so much that it is a constant ache. In the part of the Greater Toronto Area where I live, there is a large community of Egyptians. Every time I hear Arabic, I feel it pulling me like a magnet. The other day I finally got up the courage to ask a mother in Tim Horton's, "Are you from Egypt?" Of course, she was, and we spent a few moments talking about the areas of Cairo where we both had spent most of our time. She was utterly gracious and kind, and called me "dear", just like so many other Egyptian moms I've known. After she left, I felt like the veneer I had built up between myself and Egypt had shattered, and it left me broken too. My heart remembered, and I cried, right there in Canada's favourite coffee shop.

Someday, I know that I will be able to feel all the ways that the people and culture of North Africa enriched my being without breaking down. I'll be able to talk to the ones I love there without tears. There will always be that ache, but it will be the beautiful kind. I picture my treasure like a pearl- layers of wisdom, strength and grace built over the pain until it truly is a thing of beauty that I can take with me everywhere, because it is a part of me. But for now...



  1. Oh man....I feel you on this one. We're 9 months post-move and I still feel empty. I know that life will re-invent it's just a question of when. The deepest loss is the loss of being in the middle of the vibrant and crazy community. See you on the other side sister? :)

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