Last Monday was UN World Refugee day. It prompted talk over the past week of the refugees in our world, our nation, and our cities. In 2015, the refugee crisis sent tens of thousands of refugees to Europe seeking refuge from unrest in their countries.
But you probably know all this.
I've known about refugees and immigrants and a hundred other minorities and issues for a long time, but never thought too much about any of them until I met them. This story isn't about what your stance should be or who should be allowed in which country. It's just a story about real people.
I knew that tiny, beautiful 11-year-old Nora's eating disorder was not just in the past.
She didn't know what the word guilt meant, but told me how she just feels so bad about herself each time she eats something, and how throwing up makes it so much easier.
She left her Mexican culture of curvy girls and delicious carb-filled food without a choice as a very young child because her mom needed to escape the violence, the lack of work, and their small house with the one bed her and her daughters all shared.
The other girls in America seem so perfect and skinny, and Nora wants nothing more than to fit in.
And how could anyone like her if she was fat?
A man who grew up in a refugee camp spoke to her class about only getting one meal a day of rice or wheat flour if they were lucky. He lived in a tent for over eight years, just waiting.
And Nora hung on to every word of his accent dripping of his own accent, translating his words into Spanish in her head as she tried to comprehend. She connected with him more than anyone in that room. She understood a life of carrying adult burdens as a child, and of leaving her home and not feeling welcomed at the new one. He spoke to her heart and reminded her of her past, she told me later that day.
But the mirror speaks to her too. Telling her lies about how grace and beauty are so far from her-- that God is far away, and she has to chase perfection instead.
I was overwhelmed, as usual, but asked Nora if she know what "gracia" meant.
No lo merecemos, she marched up to my desk and told me the next day. We don't deserve it.
We don't deserve grace. Nora is so right. We should have to chase it, and let ourselves slowly die in pursuit of perfection.
But we don't. And I find it so hard to convince myself of what I already have, but don't deserve.
Nora has so many struggles ahead of her, but her big brown eyes searching for her place in this country remind me of something.
She reminds me that there are a million other girls like her: scared as they follow their parents to a new place, desperate for friends, and overwhelmed at our culture that seems so different. She chases perfection because most people expect so much of her. She goes home and watches Disney Channel at night with a notebook writing down new English words. She begs her mom to buy her new clothes, and shoes and purses like the American girls.
Now she is speaking more English and drinking Frappechinos. I pray she never loses sight of her story-- that more people like me can learn from a little life that is so much harder than mine.
*Name changed for privacy.