Thousands and thousands of years ago a mother placed her baby in a woven boat of papyrus to escape the atrocities occurring on land and prayed that her child would withstand the dangers of the Nile and make it to a safer shore. Countless mothers today place their children on seafaring vessels and hope their babies (for a mother’s child is always her baby) sail to a safer land they may learn to call home. Warsan Shire, in her poem Home, writes, “you have to understand,/that no one puts their children in a boat/unless the water is safer than the land”. Shire uses her experience, relationships, and memories to generate understanding towards voyagers; however, Shire does a disservice to the voyager by not addressing the role that hope plays within the voyager’s journey.
If you personally have not experienced fleeing home out of safety, you do know someone that has either left or arrived at the place you call home. My Oma fled for her life during WWII and eventually sailed the seas to New York. My Italian grandfather spent his last days in Massachusetts. My father-in-law left Brazil, it’s gangs, drugs, and corruption, to seek education, safety, and opportunity in the Midwest and, eventually, California. Each of these individuals voyaged the sea hoping for something better, something safer, for themselves or for their children. Suffering with these voyagers as they relive their journeys helps me to better understand the stories of the refugees and immigrants in Shire’s poem, the stories of the students I once taught, and the other countless voyagers I meet throughout my daily living. Their stories all feature something in common: an inspiring element of hope.
Victor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning sums up the heroism displayed by many voyagers who hope when he writes, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” The “why” or, hope, does not dismiss the plight of the voyager; rather, it ignobles both them and their passage. A mother, heartbreakingly, places her child in a boat to not only avoid the dangers of land but also provide an opportunity for safety. The Israelites left Egypt and the sufferings of bondage to pursue the Promised Land. Pompeians did not flee Mt. Vesuvius’ eruptions solely not to die but because they hoped to live. Immigrants embarked on voyages to Ellis Island hoping to build a new life. Rwandans fled in hopes to find refuge from the monstrosities flooding their homeland.
Hope does not discount suffering. The stories shared in Shire’s poem and the stories in the daily news expose great and horrific sufferings of individual immigrants and refugees, men, women, children, and other types of voyagers. Hope, however, can help imbue suffering with meaning. The sorrow a mother faces when forced to part indefinitely with her child pierces her heart deeply yet her selfless, courageous act is committed for her child and a hope of something better. Shire captures the great sorrow, difficulty, and sacrifice of this particular act of a mother in Home but fails to address the ‘why’ behind it and therefore does not bring honor where honor is due; accordingly, the voyager, in this case, the mother, is given a disservice.
The fruit of a voyager’s actions demonstrates the depth of his or her hope. Moses, recognized within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and his mother, who set him afloat in a basket of papyrus, are ignobled to this very day by how their story was shared. Truly, many voyager’s stories of today are worthy of being shared for years to come as long as their stories incorporate more than their plight alone. By addressing a voyager’s hope, or lack thereof, the reader can better understand the voyager’s journey and neither millenia nor shores will detract from their story.