They say that an Englishman’s home is his castle. It is part of the stereotype of the English, that we care so much for our homes we will defend them from any incomers. We take pride in our four walls, our patch of dirt, no matter how lowly. I know that feeling. My home is incredibly important to me, scruffy and slightly crunchy as it is. It is my scruffy. It is my crunchy. I get that pride.
What I don’t get is how some of us can fail to see how that might be the case for other people too. How just because someone lives far away from us in geographical terms, we can make that mean that they live far away from us in other terms too. If I love my home and I do, and would be utterly distraught to have to leave it behind, and I would, it is not hard for me to think that someone else, someone who is a different nationality to me, might feel the same way. Just because we do not share the same mother tongue, does not mean that we do not speak the same language in every other way.
I know how lucky I am. I live in a country where there has been no invasion in living memory. I live in a country where I do not have to worry about my children every time the front door closes because they might not come back to me. I live in a country where I do not have to hold my tongue, or fear for my life because I am a woman. I live in a country where I have the freedom to be myself and the confidence to know that nobody will try to kill me for it.
I know that this luck is an accident of birth. I am not superior to anyone else because of where I was born. I am lucky.
When something truly terrible happens, people often say: ‘I cannot imagine how that feels.’ In the case of these poor refugees I can imagine only too well. I can imagine how hard it would be to be forced by circumstances beyond my control to have to leave my home, my family, my friends, my neighbourhood, the people I share a language and culture with. I can imagine the wrench of leaving behind the entire support network that gives my life meaning and purpose. I can imagine how hard it would be to leave behind all my belongings; my wedding dress, my family photographs, my pets, my bed, all the things that I have gathered around me to make my house a home that makes me feel safe and treasured. I can imagine how hard it is to leave behind my job, however mean that might be, my security, my school and the promise of a future that a good education might have given me.
I can imagine how devastating it must be to feel that my country is so hostile to me that it no longer feels like my country, and even before I leave it I feel isolated, alone, afraid. I can imagine how terrible it is to have those feelings magnified as I make my way into a world that is even more hostile to me because I have nothing to offer it and everything to ask of it. I can imagine how betrayed I would feel that my life and the life of my family has come to this, and that there is nothing I can do about it except throw myself on the mercy of strangers.
I can imagine how this would start to break my pride, and my heart.
I can imagine how terrifying it would be not to be able to reassure my children that everything will be alright, because I don’t know if anything will ever be alright again. I can imagine that I will say it anyway, and hope that they don’t hear the sick uncertainty in my voice that keeps me awake at nights as my thoughts scurry endlessly over whether I could have done anything different to protect them.
I can imagine all this, and I can imagine that it hollows me out relentlessly, washing away everything that made me, me, until I have not only lost my country and my home, I have lost myself too.
I can imagine that when this happens, when I feel I have reached rock bottom and that I have nothing left to lose, the absolute apocalypse of losing my children will take me to depths of human suffering I never dreamed were possible only a few months before.
What I cannot imagine is how someone else could not imagine this. What I cannot imagine is that someone else would turn their back on someone, anyone in this amount of pain, suffering this amount of loss. What I cannot imagine is that someone might genuinely believe that a person puts themselves in this state because they want what someone else has and thinks this is the best way to go about having it. What I cannot imagine is that someone might believe that another person would be so greedy for ‘stuff’ that they think the sacrifice of their own child’s life is a fair price to pay for that ‘stuff’.
What I cannot imagine is that these people can honestly believe that this might never happen to them. What I cannot imagine is what makes a person think that they are so special, so different, so immune to the vagaries of fate that they will be spared this when the day comes that their safe little world gets turned upside down and is no longer their castle but their prison.
My home is my castle. I love it, but my doors are open to the needy, the lost, the lonely, the poor, the frightened, the hungry, because I can imagine that there but for the grace of God go I.