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As I think about simplifying my life, I am struck by the idea that choosing to simplify is a luxury. Last night I read State of Exile by Cristina Peri Rossi, a collection of poems written during her first few years of self-exile. In the 1970’s, Rossi left her home country of Uruguay when, under a repressive military dictatorship, her publications were banned and her life threatened. She moved to Europe at 31, alone, without a support system, without possessions. No calls home, care packages or visitors. She couldn’t comfort or protect her family and friends from the emotional loss or their daily suffering. Why? To stay was “certain torture, probable death.” She would never return.

I also recently read The World of Mexican Migrants: the Rock and the Hard Place by Judith Adler Hellman, a thought-provoking book about the reasons why people choose to risk their lives to cross a hostile U.S. border, work jobs at wages most Americans would refuse with stressful living conditions, suffer mistreatment and abuse because of their status and live in constant fear. It was an insightful book filled with personal stories and descriptions of the difficult choices made in order to escape extreme poverty or, for some women, the oppressive village-based forms of patriarchy. Hard-earned money is sent home to support parents, spouses, and children and not always used in ways the sender imagined.

Awhile back I noticed a homeless woman in our community who suddenly seemed to appear a lot. One morning I walked passed her sitting outside the co-op with her well-worn backpack and wheeled carrier. I said hello but was in a hurry to go to work. She didn’t respond. I decided the next time I would pause and make space for even a short conversation. Offer to buy her a cup of coffee. Like Murphy’s Law, though, I haven’t seen her since. But it’s cold, now. Perhaps her routine has changed for the winter. I’ll keep watching.

Rossi reminds us that people are not always as they seem.

That old man

Who washes the dishes

…climbs to his room on the eighth floor

No bath

Not even a toilet

In Uruguay he was a mathematician

He never wanted to go to Europe.

Having experienced the challenges of moving (just) four states away under normal and good circumstances, I cannot imagine the feeling of displacement, uncertainty and loss that must accompany the exile, immigrant and homeless. Nor the choices which must be made, under duress, about what or who must be left behind.

Tonight, I am thankful for the luxury of assessing New Year’s goals. And I’m challenged to consider more deeply those without the same freedom. In a further testing of my three words, I’ll ask myself what I can reduce to reach out to the displaced? How will I challenge my usual thinking (wildness) and how far reaching is my tribe?

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