Monday, April 30, 2012

The Best Years of Our Lives

I only met Lily Ellis a few times. On each occasion that I saw her, she was engaging and warm. Though she barely knew me, she’d give me a kiss on the cheek and chat with me a bit before whatever event we were at got underway. Afterwards, she would give me a proper farewell and another kiss on the cheek. When I heard that she’d passed away, I was crestfallen. Though she was nearly 80 years old, she crackled with vibrancy. I did not know that she was ill, or that she was to undergo surgery this year.
When my partner told me of her death, I thought immediately of her daughter Mally, whom I had come to know through him. Mally had invited her mother to come live with her and her family in Australia just five years ago. Lily had spent most of her life in Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa, finally deciding to leave the comforts of her home to venture out into foreign territory. Many people emigrate to other parts of the world in youth or middle age, but I found it particularly adventurous that an elderly lady would make the trek to a faraway country such as Australia.
Lily’s family chose their Rabbi to give her eulogy. He lovingly told the details of her life in Africa and Australia, her triumphs and tribulations, her loves and losses. One thing he said resonated with me in particular: before she passed, Lily described her time in Australia as the best years of her life. Just then I wished I had had the opportunity to know her better. Those of us who choose to become immigrants are a breed apart. Not only do we uproot ourselves, leaving behind everything familiar and comfortable, but we do it with aplomb. We are adventurous souls in search of a better life, fully aware we may not find it, but fearless enough to light out anyway.
In the debates about immigration in Australia and America, the one thing left out of the discussion is actual immigrants and what they bring to their new countries. In both Australia and America, immigrants are viewed as parasites at worst or unimportant at best.  ‘We don’t need more people’, is the common refrain. Due to decades of welfare statism and environmentalist propaganda, immigrants are no longer welcomed as those who will enrich the societies they move to, but rather native born locals view them with suspicion or, dare I say it, derision. It may be true that some immigrants are layabouts only seeking to live off of others, but I believe the vast majority are resourceful and hard working.
Think about it. To make the enormous effort to plan and then move to a new country, often without knowing much about the place he will call home, an immigrant must be more independent than the average person. When he arrives in the new country, he must begin the work of getting to know his way around, finding a place to live, meeting new friends, and the list goes on. The last thing on the mind of a new immigrant is how he can ‘game the system’ so he can sponge off of others. Even the dreaded ‘boat people’ (a term I find profoundly insulting to those who endure extreme hardship to find a better place to live) are far more virtuous than given credit.
I have a request for my readers. Next time you think about immigration, instead of lumping all these people into an amorphous collective, pause to consider the Lilys, the Jasons, the Mallys and all the actual people who risk life and livelihood to find a better place. A place they can call home, just as you do.

1 comment:

  1. This is a beautiful tribute, and also good for a "think".

    It's funny, but although I'm an immigrant, I don't think of myself as one. Maybe it's because Australia is not that different from the USA - same language, same cultural background. Living in Australia isn't culturally much different from living in Ohio than living in, say, Alabama or Louisiana or Maine would be from Ohio.

    But living here is living much farther from my original home, and the only person I knew when I came here was Prodos, and I'd never met him in person before, but only through the Internet and telephone. So it *was* an adventure. And the only familiar possessions I had were what I brought in my suitcase. I don't even have my piano. :(

    So everything was changed all at once, including the season when we celebrate Christmas. And Easter comes in the fall. Bunnies and daffodils and all that Easter fertility stuff show up in Autumn! It's just not *right*. Even after 9 years I still find myself having moments when I have to stop and think "what season are we in?"

    Lily Ellis sounds like a delightful person. She came from Zimbabwe just 5 years ago? Living under Mugabe, couldn't have been easy. I wonder what her life was like there. I'm glad she enjoyed her life in Australia so much.

    I'm enjoying mine, too. :)