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Today's rhaps is on ... The Accidental Expat

Gabriele Münter, Woman in Thought, 1917

​Today in one of my philosophy cafés, I found myself saying, "I guess I've always been an expat!"

The others were describing the original home-zone from whence their expat-ness derived. I thought to myself, now there's a novel identity, one I'd not considered in my search for roots.

I thought of this rhaps, below, from last year ["Send Her Back"] when an angry nurse told me to go back where I came from. A senhora deve voltar para o seu país!

I also thought of my adopted cousins, granddaughters to my Great Aunt H. They showed up at her funeral, shocking my relatives who had not known of the mystery pregnancy so long ago. I found out later they got to spend time with their grandmother before she died, and feel all the love that must have been buried deep in a young girl's heart since she was bustled out of Kalamazoo to give away her baby girl, their mother, in the secret dark of night. The reunion had to be equally dear to my great aunt.

What is it to have roots?

I still cry every time I hear the lines:

Roots hold me tight

Wings set me free...

...and my Unitarian minister friend plays this hymn, Spirit of Life, every single week! I've been zooming over on Sundays to his Vermont chapel to see the chalice burning and hear the service poetry.

So once upon a time in the 1870s, a young girl in Bavaria accepted a marriage proposal from an Iowa farmer, rode long trains and steamships to the other side of the world, and had seven babies in the Midwestern corn of whom, my Grandma, selected tuition to Dubuque University instead of the sewing machine her sisters preferred, where she met my Presbyterian minister Grandpa. Their daughter, my beautiful mother, chose as her husband a WWII bombardier missionary on his way back to Europe, where I was born a Lisbon British Hospital room away from baby Filipa, last living descendant of Philippa of Lancaster (Filipa de Lencastre), who married D. João I de Portugal in 1387.

How do I know this? My mother was reading their historical romance in that month's Better Homes and Gardens, September 1954, and learned of the auspicious coincidence.

What is it to have roots?

I don't know, but as soon as I heard this story I was determined to prove that I, the real Filipa, had been tragically switched at birth with the hapless missionary kid.

She would have had roots, my Filipa!

She would have looked at native shrubbery with a tenderness I’d never known, danced effortlessly to indigenous songs I couldn’t even hear, she could have tasted homegrown tidbits with a palate I’d never acquire, and felt the kind of terrestrial belonging I'd never feel.…

But alas, no one has ever come forward to confirm my implausible suspicions, leaving me to stew in my eternal expat-ness. For rootless I was, and am, and ever shall be. Amen.

I now designate the next, and likely final, chapter of my life, to exploring this new identity. There will be books to read...if not, I will write one.

9 JUNE 2021


Today's rhaps is on ... "Send Her Back"

Written in January 2020

Gabriele Münter, Woman in Thought II, 1928

Yesterday I was told to "go back to my country" wherever I came from.

I was being yelled at for not showing up 15 minutes before a medical appointment when I had been there 15 minutes prior. It didn't matter, my expression or words or dialect or demeanor or whatever was wrong or inappropriate or inconvenient and I needed to be punished.

I don't do well with angry male voices in any language. Feeling about four years old and embarrassed, I looked back and forth at three different people telling me to go sit here, or there, or over there. It took too long so the little kid incongruously hobbling with a cane finally made it to the nearest chair.

The larger existential question of proper origin and genetic heritage didn't present itself until later, after I'd returned home. The ordeal itself sucked up all my immediate energy, the basic survival stuff that keeps flies glued to a window and moths to a flickering light, hoping for escape before it's too late.

Since Friday morning the thought of World War III weighs heavy, the assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani echoing the one resulting in World War I. A friend from Guinea-Bissau kindly reminded me that Iran would require its ally Russia to engage in global conflict, unlikely as long as Russia's weakness is China's gain. Nonetheless, the innocent blood shed in geoterrorist plots will not in any way justify the narcissistic malignance of these perpetrators, these perpetraitors. Oddly, their fanning and fawning over Putin may afford peculiar protection in keeping the planet safe from total devastation for a time. Still, the brutality of life lost, such vile and unnecessary wounding, is exponentially worse when imposed on us by bullies gone mad with power and vengeance.

Send me back, send her back, send us back—where is that, exactly?

7 JANUARY 2020

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