I am writing this while sitting at a dining room table in a lovely home in northern England.
I hadn’t planned to be here. However, I didn’t want to go home after attending a week-long business conference in Belgium.
“Remember when you said your family and friends would love to show me around your hometown?” I messaged my friend, Andrew, late one night. “Were you serious?”
One flight, an Uber ride, and a two-hour train trip later, I discovered the answer to my question was a resounding “yes.”
Chris, Andrew’s childhood friend, with whom I chatted occasionally on Facebook, and his wife, Pauline welcomed me into their home for the weekend. He cooked one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten and afterwards we walked to a nearby pub for a drink. The next day we took a drive around the Lake District near Scotland, known for its sheep-dotted, mountainsides and expansive, clear lakes.
I learned from Chris about what it was like to grow up as a mixed-race child in England during the 1970s and 80s and the courage and intelligence it took to transcend poverty in class conscious country. While waiting in line at an iconic, local restaurant, I playfully argued the merits of whether one should have curry with one’s fish and chips.
“If you don’t ‘ave curry, I don’t want to know you,” the man joked in an accent as thick as a pint of Guinness. “I don’t care if you are from America.”
Annette, Andrew’s mother, took over as hostess on Monday when Chris returned to work for a busy week. We met up with Annette at a local church, where she and a group of friends, have fellowship with refugees seeking asylum in England. We sat in a circle among sun-drenched wisteria and trees that dipped low as two men from Cameroon, one whose native tongue was French and the other English and would have never been friends back home, told us of their struggles to adapt and gain citizenship to their new land.
I felt an immediate kinship with Annette and her group of friends, mostly elderly, white British people who wanted to make the world a kinder, gentler place in their own way. They didn’t scream about their political positions on social media or thumped their chests about being on the right side of history. Every week, they show up with a pot of coffee, a plate of Danish, and an open heart.
Later that afternoon, Annette and I rode by the cemetery where her husband is buried on the way to her house where I’ll be staying for the next couple of days.
“Make the world one family is on his tombstone,” she explained.
I nodded thoughtfully and allowed the words to sink in. In recent weeks, I allowed insecurity and cynicism erode my faith in people. Most of us are doing the best we can in any given moment.
For the past three years, I felt strangely orphaned in the world after my mother, the last of my immediate family, passed away. But we are never alone – whether we are a priest from Glasgow, a Cameroon refugee, or a black American ex-pat abroad. While my suitcase is packed with Belgian chocolate, my heart is full of love for my newfound family.