Comfort zones

It’s the weekend before Thanksgiving, that time of year when I have to admit that the season has begun. Driving home from work on Friday, I found myself (along with the girls, who had the pleasure of attending a faculty meeting with me) stuck in holiday traffic. All the way down Interstate 65, we followed the stream of red lights and dodged the occasional police car or emergency vehicle flashing and blaring its way through.

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m a bit of a scrooge during the holidays. The to-do lists and pressure to be perpetually joyous kind of get to me. You might say that red and green step in for the pink–and carry the same general assumption that it’s a time for everyone to give thanks and be filled with a giving spirit. Such a goal isn’t always attainable, or realistic.

One of my students told me a few weeks ago that her best friend, who happens to be in Alabama illegally, hasn’t ventured out since news of the immigration law forced her to question her safety, and more importantly, her identity. She came to Alabama to escape a life that most of us wouldn’t consider a life at all. In Birmingham, she found friends and work and hope. Now, she’s scared to pick up the telephone or open the door. Many of her friends are in the same boat, keeping their children home from school and maintaining as low a profile as possible.

Their lives, as they’ve lived them for many years on Alabama soil, have been erased.

When I travel, one thing that gives me pause is when I find myself outside a comfort zone that I never gave a second thought at home: haggling with a shopowner for an item that I can throw into my cart sans discussion at Target, wanting a cold drink but worrying that the ice might make me sick, attempting to dry my hair and discovering that the “universal” plug I packed isn’t so universal after all. By the second week of a jaunt to India, I really just want to use a toilet that doesn’t require squatting and that doesn’t seriously challenge my olfactory sensitivities.

When things are moving along–an immigrant feels secure in her home away from home, a parent has a job and the money to buy just what the kids want for Christmas, conveniences go unnoticed–the red and green seem do-able. At other times, the cheer can be a challenge.


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