I Want to Go Home.
A nameless Afghan man falls from a cargo plane heading to Qatar; a sparrow’s nest falls from a walnut tree next to the creek.
Another Afghan falls from the C-17 — a teenager the whole world mourns because the media made him human. They said his name. Zaki Anwari. He was a real person. This young man was a soccer player. And now he’s not. He will never get to be anything now because he fought to survive and the poor blessed soul died trying.
Every news outlet reports the finding of “human remains” in the landing gear.
No one should live or die terrified.
I am not in danger. I watch one black butterfly wing through the ravine with soft shocks of iridescent blue.
I walk to Mass. The rain blows in sideways through the open windows of the small rural church. Saturday night vigil. A young priest tries to preach the Gospel through a broken microphone over the white noise of the storm. The trees sway under the lampposts and the leaves lattice shadows across the cobblestone. I walk back with wet feet.
It’s not Mississippi balmy here but a warm fog exhales along the cliffside like God is smoking. It’s so peaceful. Beautiful. A million yellow leaves swirl and shoal like a school of fish, then float-fall like feathers. The dog days of summer, the canícula, mark the beginning of rainy season here.
I’m watching the afternoon-turned-evening storm like a movie, feeling navel-gaze-y and helpless, thinking about how hope is as old as humanity, how migration will never end, how we will always hurt each other. How we are all falling like leaves, like feathers, the thinnest wisps of DNA spiraling through this life toward what? Home? Love? The future? Millions of people just want to be safe. They will fall to their bone-shattering death trying.
They will beg a stranger with a gun to hoist their child, a terrified infant limp as a wet hibiscus to safety.
The whole world watched a Marine pull a wailing baby girl up by one little arm over razor wire but along other American borders, other imaginary geopolitical lines, parents beg the men with guns not to take their children.
It feels like no one can stop them.
Forest fires ignite along the West Coast again and another earthquake levels Haiti. The Delta variant ravages the unvaccinated and the unvaccinated ravage the hospitals. Doctors plead with people to save themselves before it’s too late.
Fire is a season now. There is so much suffering. We are all falling but some farther than others. Some are running.
What is home?
Where is home if you have to flee?
“There’s no home like place,” — Kelly Caldwell
I am finally back in Cofradía. To Tzapotépetl, the Volcán de Fuego, not because I had to flee, not because I think I can find anything here that can’t be found anywhere else in this gorgeous and tumultuous world — purpose, happiness, love, laughter — but simply because I feel peaceful here. I am polka-dotted with spider bites and mosquito bites — the little fuckers are out even during the daytime, even in the torrential rain, and I’m incensed to keep finding them in the sheets. I’m increasingly afraid of dying from any strain of Dengue but I am content, happy even.
I am safe. I am lucky. And I did nothing to deserve either.
Back home, in my hometown, I don’t have my own home anymore but I do have three keys and a key code. I have friends and family who trust me, love me, welcome me. How could that not be enough? Who am I to long for more?
Small shapes are singing from that towering black walnut tree where two other birds’ nests are still safe, perched high in the canopy. Their melodies gild the trees like the moss on the teetering old stone steps.
I can’t make them out but my Australian friend knows their names by their songs. Motmots. Tanagers. She has a beautiful voice too, a joyful laugh.
Back in Colima City, a hummingbird frequented the lime tree on their back patio. They called him America.
“Why did you name him that?” I asked, surprised. She looked pained for a second.
“Because he’s so aggressive and territorial.”
I laughed a regretful laugh. I’m ashamed of the accuracy, ashamed of our international reputation.
This small town welcomes me anyway.
Diego’s grandfather was a bricklayer. He helped build both of the churches, one on each side of the creek. A brand new gleaming white footbridge crosses it, taking you toward the highway, a winding back road that climbs up the mountain through the gravity hill toward both volcanoes. Outside La Nogalera men break and pound stone into molcajetes, the crack of each splitting rock ringing on notes I can’t name.
“Do you feel Mexican yet?” Abel asks me. He’s asked me that before, always smiling. He’s lived here his whole life. He is endlessly patient, teaching me new words and phrases, correcting incorrect words and pronunciation, waiting while I spell them out in my notebook.
“I feel very Oregonian,” I tell him. “But I feel like Mexico is my second home. Like I belong here too.”
Ah-loom-bruh-door-rays. Between vertebrae-rattling booms of thunder, he sounds out another new word for me. Another storm. We watch the sky like a movie for hours. White gold cracks the pink night like clean glass over and over again, splintering the screen of the sky sideways. I’ve never seen horizontal lightning before. It is, without a doubt, the single greatest storm of my life.
“We don’t say ‘luciérnagas’ for fireflies very much. ‘Alumbradores’ is more common here.”
Each little pulse is the tiniest yellow lantern, a gift starting in the dark forest. They are Midsummer Night’s Dream magical; I was little the last time I saw them.
I don’t deserve any of this but I’m grateful for all of it.
I pray that Mexicans coming to the U.S. are welcomed the way I always am here. That they find peace and beauty and safety on their journey. That refugees and travelers from everywhere are always welcomed home — wherever might become home.
We’re all just leafcutter ants carrying our own loads, spinning around the same sun. And I know how naïve it sounds to say we are all neighbors but that doesn’t make it less true.
Maybe we’re never done searching. Migrating. Working. Longing. Loving.
In this great big world, our neighbors are child brides, oil-soaked wives set on fire in their own homes, tortured men without fingernails still turning the pages of contraband books.
Whatever you’re searching for, ring-tailed tezmos searching for food or street cats yowling for mates, you don’t have to be a monk on a mountaintop to find purpose in service, to find joy in generosity. You don’t have to take vows of silence or poverty to find love in kindness.
You can always find camaraderie among good people.
So check the rain-drenched birds’ nests for eggs if they fall. Feed the stray dogs. Smile back at the street sweepers and the young men in rubber boots with rusty machetes on their way home from cutting sugarcane. Sing along with the cab drivers. Sit on the porch with your grandparents if you still have them. Read Mary Oliver.
But remember, even though place can only be a proxy for purpose for so long, you don’t have to know where you belong to be kind while you listen for your calling, while you find your way home.
And if you’re one of the lucky ones, whether you’ve put roots down or not, whether your “home” is permanent or not, if you’re lucky enough to be safe, give as much as you can to those who aren’t.
Zaki Anwari: Afghan footballer falls to death from US plane in Kabul
Zaki Anwari, 19, had played for Afghanistan's national youth team before trying to flee the country.