Our hearts are broken as we listen to, watch, and read stories of devastation that continue to impact the Northwest. In the midst of a global pandemic, heightened awareness of injustice happening across our country and in our own communities, we are now living in a city covered in the smoke stemming from a loss of forests, towns, homes, as well as the livelihoods and lives of neighbors throughout our state. In the intersection of so much tragedy, the pain has left so many of us paralyzed at an acknowledgement of the devastation happening all around us and it doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon.
It’s in this place that we also find ourselves thinking about those that have come to our city through the refugee resettlement process. We’re looking to these neighbors right now as those among us that know what it means to be displaced, to lose a sense of how life is supposed to go, to lose nearly everything you’ve ever owned before you can even wrap your mind around what’s happening. We think of this reflection as a gift of the reminder in the ways that pain and strength can sit by one another side by side in these moments of absolute heartbreak.
As we’re listening to stories of loss in communities across our state, we’re reminded of the stories we know of people that have had to flee their homes within a moments notice due to the terrorism and suffering invading their neighborhood as thick as the smoke filling ours as we write this today. We’re remembering the stories of what it means to have 5 minutes to impossibly decide what the most important items you’ll need to keep going physically and emotionally will be. The way friends evacuated from their homes this week to show up to a shelter or already full home, is not so entirely different from the way friends from distant countries find themselves walking through Portland International Airport on day one in the United States. Rural Oregon and the rural areas of Congo share these moments in common even as there is so much that remains different.
We say all of this not to understate the pain of those across the West Coast that are facing what feels insurmountable at times in these weeks of loss and confusion. We say this just to say that displacement feels like an impossible loss that will never be able to be recovered from. And in many ways, it’s true. It will be impossible to recover what’s been irreplaceably lost, and the emotional pain experienced will re-shape the forever outlook for thousands. What is simultaneously true, as we have seen in the grit, resilience, and courage of so many of our friends in the resettlement community, is that while the pain may always be present, it doesn’t exist outside of the strength that comes from communities rallying together in love, mutual aid, and sharing stories that remind us of the complicated beauty of pain and resilience coexisting.