“Dear Lord, don’t let Billy’s memories remain anchors that he has to drag along. Turn them to treasures he can carry with him.”
This prayer by a friend of musician Billy Sprague is one of the most profound things I’ve read in my 28 years. It first resonated with me when I came across it as a teenager in the book Ragamuffin Prayers. I remembered moving back to Canada from Senegal at age 12, giving up my friends and my dreams of growing up on the edge of the Sahara, and I realized that I needed those memories to be treasures, not anchors that made me bitter.
And recently I’ve moved back to Canada again, from the other edge of the Sahara — Cairo, Egypt. Moving overseas and then back again was my choice this time, but that doesn’t make it easier. Right now, my memories of my time in Cairo feel like stones on my heart, weighing me down; they remind me of the holes in my life where all the things and people I lost used to be. That quote is becoming something of a mantra, and I pray it every single day. “God let my memories become treasures I can carry with me.”
Not many people talk about moving as a loss, but it very much is one. When a person dies, you take the time and space to mourn them. It’s expected. But what about when what has died is your way of life, your connection to a community, and your relationships in the ways that you have known them? To me that is a different kind of loss than losing someone to death, but it goes just as deep. Life will never be the same, and that is something to mourn and heal from.
And those people I couldn’t keep my distance from? I miss their smiles, their warmth and their presence so much that it is a constant ache. In the part of the Greater Toronto Area where I live, there is a large community of Egyptians. Every time I hear Arabic, I feel it pulling me like a magnet. The other day I finally got up the courage to ask a mother in Tim Hortons, “Are you from Egypt?” Of course, she was, and we spent a few moments talking about the areas of Cairo where we both had spent most of our time. She was utterly gracious and kind, and called me “dear”, just like so many other Egyptian moms I’ve known. After she left, I felt like the veneer I had built up between myself and Egypt had shattered, and it left me feeling broken. My heart remembered, and I cried, right there in Canada’s favourite coffee shop.
Someday, I know that I will be able to feel all the ways that the people and culture of North Africa enriched my being without breaking down. I’ll be able to talk to the ones I love there without tears. There will always be that ache, but it will be the beautiful kind. I picture the treasure of my past life like a pearl — layers of wisdom, strength and grace built over the pain until it truly is a thing of beauty that I can take with me everywhere, because it is a part of me.
There was a day when I was 13, almost a year after we had moved back to Canada the first time. I was behind our rented house when I spotted a patch of delicate blue forget-me-nots. They seemed like a reminder to me to keep those I had left behind in my heart, but to make room for new relationships, no matter what the future held. Just like those tiny fleeting blooms, I couldn’t drag all the people I loved around with me — but I could remember, and I could look around me for the beauty that is present right now.
Photo by Flickr (CC): Sue Loft