We are buckled into our seats, surrounded by bags and pillows—things we have decided we need for another night not in our home. Just minutes away from our cousin’s home, the baby throws up. She woke up with a fever. It covers her, the favorite blanket, and car seat. A sick baby isn’t up for a weekend of being guests in someone else’s home. She needs me always and I stroke her forehead, it’s so hot. I hold her close as she shakes and cries. She doesn’t chase the fluffy little dog that always makes her laugh. She doesn’t follow around her siblings or attempt to scale the tall stairs. At night, when she wakes, I collect her from bed and bring her to the cot in the living room. The rest of the family stirs at her discomfort and most likely, the rest of the house does, too.
The week is long and frustrating. Sewage backup, an endless stream of insurance calls, plumbers, restoration workers, and landlord communications. The exclusion at the bottom of a policy that leaves them without responsibility and us overwhelmed. I want to scream all the words I only say in my head. I want to splash outrage across everything we see. Because, tell me how I’m going to manage living in half our home for the next month as the rest is rebuilt. Tell me how a functioning kitchen is not a requirement for a “livable” home. Tell me the point of insurance, if it doesn’t help. And yet. I bite my lip and sigh a lot.
Just last month when we lived with my mom, I was struck with such a feeling of displacement. All the endings and beginnings of the season left me startled and bewildered. I began to see it everywhere. The green sleeping bag under the bridge in downtown Kansas City. The thousands of souls fleeing their homeland at all costs. If they go, they may die, but if they stay, they certainly will. Look at their desperation and dare to feel displacement. Just dare.
A sick baby is loaded in the car seat, because we have to go here and there, we can’t go home to snuggle on the couch, to notice every whimper, every little shudder from the chills. One more stop until we return to this home of ours. Half the walls are stripped bare. The floors are torn apart and exposed. We’ll endure the construction and be intentional with simple and prepared meals. We’ll enter more restaurants than usual. There will be many challenges, but I cannot utter the word suffering.
Suffering, I do not know. The mother with a child in arms, carrying all that remains of their material belongings. The baby is hungry, because there is no food or warmth or rest. They must press onward. They must get on the train. They must be let in the gates. And the baby becomes sick, her cries are great, joining in the heart breaking chorus of the many who are broken and afraid, desperate with survival. There is no rest in survival. A little body burns with fever, but they trudge on in a place they are not welcome. Everything is unknown and bewildering. The mother strokes her forehead, gives her a sip of water, from the bottle that is nearly empty. Every drop matters. Every step must be taken. There are long, staggering conversations considering the limited money in their pockets, a debate over lodging and food, travel or medicine. One or the other? What can we forgo? If we can just get there? If we can just…
Exhaustion seeps into every desperate word. All around them, the foreign and unwelcoming world does not care for the weeping small ones, for the strong and weary others pressing on for their lives. Displacement is oozing and smells fowl. It settles in and dulls shining eyes. Embers of darkness and fear begin to glow. Who can be trusted? Not many. Who will help us? Not many. What will we do? I don’t know, but we have to try.
We unloaded the car and turned the key in the door. A deep sigh acknowledged the reality of these next few weeks. An exhaustion served atop the move half way across the country heaped on top of the process of it all. I gave her medicine to ease her symptoms and placed her gently in bed. My baby rests now, under her favorite blanket, next to the handmade bunny that we made in anticipation of her life and a teddy bear from daddy on the day we first saw her beautiful, big eyes.
I walked down the stairs to a mountain of boxes labeled kitchen. I do not know where to find the trash bags. I can not find the kettle that will brew water for coffee, but in one cupboard that remains on the wall, someone was thoughtful enough to put our paper plates, plastic silverware, and the half empty bottle of spiced rum. I laughed. I put a simple lunch on paper plates and bring to my family.
Our inconvenience will feel great. Yet, it is not suffering. No. Suffering, can we even imagine theirs? Inconvenience is merely a rain drop in an ocean full of wandering souls with no place to return and no place to arrive.