My creative writing teacher (I will always refer to her as such even though I graduated nearly twenty-five years ago) asked us (her forever students) to send her a quick email about an important gift we gave or received this holiday.
Maybe I could snap a quick pic from the tree on Christmas Eve, filled with makeup, watercolor markers, jeans, and long-sleeved blouses for my three teenage daughters. Or of Christmas morning with the magical Apple Watches, so coveted by my Apple-only family.
Or the earrings my mother made me or the gift card to Colorado Gives from my sister.
But none of these things could begin to compare with the gift that this year has given me. The gift of this man in my life who would do anything, anything to prove his love to me. Marry me when I was just a baby. Follow me to Spain. Learn how to ski nine months and one lesson after tearing his ACL. Read every post. Drive overnight through the midwest so the entire family could sleep.
Take into our house a boy who doesn’t belong to us and in every way belongs to us.
You have watched the news. You have seen the stories. You have donated money. You have screamed in frustration at the cruelties and injustices inflicted on others by our government. By ourselves.
But have you stood in front of fourteen Newcomers and come to understand how brightly they still see our country? Have you had a hallway conversation with a boy who informs you that, after five days of walking, twenty-five days of train-hopping and pigeon-killing, two days of washing windshields in Mexico City, five days waiting to cross the Rio Grande in the middle of the night on a raft, one week in a detention center and four months in a home for unaccompanied minors, and four months in a homeless youth shelter, he is still looking for a home?
And that, no matter what, he cannot, will not, return home?
What would you do? What might you ask your husband to do? Your three ever-spoiled, ever-adaptable, ever-loving teenage daughters?
Would you keep scrolling past the images of children under space blankets on concrete floors?
Or would you realize that this boy is standing in front of you, in your school, in your class, in your life, without a home? A family? And do something? Anything?
I cannot take a quick pic of the past two weeks, the entire time that has passed between my knowledge of his status and his soon-to-be permanent placement in our home. The phone calls, the emails to every last human I could think of who might help him. The two-hour meeting with the Department of Human Services, his Honduran father on the line, ready to relinquish all rights. The background checks, fingerprints, home visits, all within a day. His arrival to my home with three garbage bags filled with clothing and no coat. The shy first meal that he took to the basement to eat. Alone. His quick smile and ever-present hope that this place must be a better place. His immediate love of our three pets.
I cannot send Mrs. Clark a quick email about my gifts this year. There are too many to count, they are the uncountable nouns I teach my Newcomers: love, hope, future, desire.
They are all in this union that the caseworker asked about today: “Married for almost twenty-two years? Tell me, how do you do it?” “Patience and love. Patience and love.”
They are here, in this boy, unwrapped, ready to be our brother, our son, part of our world.
These are my gifts. I’m sorry this is such a long email, Mrs. Clark.