The Rev. Dr. Han van den Blink
St. Paul’s Church, Troy

The cords of hell entangled me,
and the snares of death were set for me.
Psalm 18:5

continuation of January 13th post

It was a lovely, clear night and, as the train made its way through the beautiful Javanese landscape, the light of the full moon shone on the many kampongs (hamlets and villages) that we passed, with here and there a flickering light visible. In the midst of all the danger and mayhem it was a scene of great beauty and peace.

I have often wondered why the memory of that night has stayed with me. I had turned 12 earlier that year and was fully aware that we were leaving the land of my birth and would never return. From that time on I was a refugee and the experience of being one marked me for life, continues to shape my values and influence my perceptions, and often triggers very strong feelings in me at the most unexpected moments.

Being a refugee means that one has been expelled from one’s country of origin, from one’s formative culture, from the familiar surroundings in which one has grown up. Even though my parents were Dutch, Holland was not my country of birth. What I remember about Java are such things as the intonation of the spoken word in languages other than one’s own, the familiar sounds of the nightly chorus of crickets, geckos, birds and other nocturnal creatures, and the unmistakable, pleasing smell of Indonesia with its own unique fragrance.

Being a refugee means that one has become emotionally, spiritually, and often literally stateless, without a passport, without a permanent home, wandering the world without a sense of belonging anywhere, to feel oneself an outsider, to always distrust the appearance of social peace and stability, and to make oneself as invisible as possible so as not to attract attention.

Being a refugee makes one vulnerable and dependent on the mercy of others. Being a refugee sharpens one’s ability to discern who one can rely on and who cannot be trusted. Pleasant and painful memories of the land of one’s birth may dwindle over time but being a refugee leaves one with an enduring sense of grief.