Airports are amazing things, aren’t they? Nowhere else in the world can one witness such an epic convergence of so many cultures, languages, people, needs, desires, and goals as one can in the corridors of any major airport. For most, they represent the beginning and end of trips. For my husband and I, they represent journeys of a lifetime. For us, the airport is no longer just a part of a passing business trip, or vacation, but rather a vehicle that facilitated the uprooting and replanting of a life into a totally different country, culture, and way of being.
Airports, in this case, become the launching pad for something that takes guts.
Sound daunting? It should (primarily because it is). Now, imagine doing this at 17, and flying entirely solo.
My parents must have been insane.
The world is big, and I was dying to explore it. Unfortunately for me, study-abroad programs are rarely inexpensive. A few scholarship programs existed, but none were available to me at that time. “Who needs programs?” I thought, determined.
So, I created my own. Thankfully, the pieces seemed to seamlessly fall into place. It happened fast—I made the decision in June and was boarding a plane in August.
Really, my parents must have been insane.
This was while I was still living in Mexico, and I went with my husband's family to the beach for Christmas in 2006. (Photo Courtesy of Author)
The day finally came for me to leave for Mexico. I suddenly found my palms turning clammy and cold. A knot formed in my throat. It was as if during the months I spent working to earn the money for this venture, I hadn’t particularly given a second thought to the gravity of the move I was about to make, and suddenly I was having an epiphany. Out of the blue I hear myself whispering “I can’t do this . . .” to my equally emotional father, who (suppressing such thoughts about his own ability to say goodbye) encouraged me onward.
The decision had been made, and all that remained was for me to act on it. I forced my feet to step through the door and into the fruits of a decision that would alter my life.
Seriously, my parents must have been insane.
Over the next few months, I made it past the normal culture shock . . . and the unusual news that my next door neighbor turned out to be an infamous kidnapping ringleader (the now-jailed Israel Vallarta of Los Zodiacos who had a home in Guadalajara), Moctezuma’s infamous revenge, and other experiences. To this day I look back and wonder whether or not I’d be able to do the same today without the bravery that comes along with the teenage belief in one’s relative invincibility.
Language was the least of my worries; after all, there were books for that. Much harder to absorb and truly understand were the faint nuances of body language, of personality, of personal space, and so forth. Anyone who has lived abroad knows what it’s like to deal with a perpetual headache as your brain works overtime processing the two languages it will eventually merge into one seamless track, all while juggling a crash-course in new . . . everything.
In the course of it all, I also met the man I would someday marry.
What began as a close friendship soon turned into something a more . . . and before long we were nearly inseparable. Because of him, I stayed not a year, but three—attending college, soaking up the exciting culture, perfecting my second language and teaching young children theirs at an English school.
In case you were wondering . . . my parents weren’t insane . . . they were as brave as I hope I’ll be with my future children. In all reality, what they did was far braver than what I did. Letting go is often the impetus behind some of the greatest, most formative choices people can make. This bravery sets you free to make incredibly amazing decisions.
Five years ago, my husband took the same life-altering step of bravery I did as he bid his family goodbye in Guadalajara’s airport. He left a whole life behind in order to board an airplane that would take him not on a trip, but a journey; a plane that would take him to a vastly different culture, climate (to Minnesota—he’s a saint), and people; a plane that would take him to an exciting new chapter with the woman he loved; a plane that would take him to the place where they’d adopt their first dog and buy their first home.
Outside our home in Plymouth, Minn. in 2012 (Photo Courtesy of Author)
To get to that point happy point, however, we faced sea of unknowns together; navigating the tangled maze of bureaucracy that is our immigration system. This system makes it incredibly difficult to do the right thing . . . and incredibly attractive to just skip it. Despite the expense, the loneliness while living apart, and the stressfulness of frightening paperwork (always knowing that a denial letter could be just around the corner) we always kept our eyes on the prize. You see, that’s what makes this so great. Our story defied the temptation to take the cop-out.
Earlier I said that some journeys take real guts. You know what else takes guts? Doing the right thing, especially when so much of the world tells you that you not only should take the easy route, but that you actually deserve the easy route (think: amnesty). I speak for my husband as well when I say that the fact that we did this the right way makes my husband’s legality all the more precious, and all the more earned. We bought and paid for my husband’s slice of the American dream, lock stock and barrel. And we're still waiting for his full citizenship to come through. Sure, the system is flawed, but we faced it. For a change, what say we celebrate those of us brave enough to face the behemoth that is this process—because you know what? Shockingly enough, doing it right is good! In fact, it’s true courage.
Featured Photo: People opposed to current immigration legislation in Congress gather at a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2013. The event is sponsored by a group called the Black American Leadership Alliance, which, in their words, does not want to "provide amnesty to over 11 million people who have entered the country illegally." Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP
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