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.
I love the allusion to baby Moses. Very touching.
Thank you for taking the time to read, Jon!
Glad you enjoyed reading it!
Thank you for reminding us of the hope!
My pleasure. Thanks for reading!
Great essay! I love the line from your essay, “Hope, however, can help imbue suffering with meaning.” This redemptive element was strongly absent from Shire’s original poem and your essay really brought this to light.
I agree as to the absence of “hope” from the original poem. And while acknowledging the role hope must play in the particular circumstance Shire highlights, I cannot but think it takes a back seat to perceived desperation.
That’s a great point. Are you getting at “desperate times call for desperate measures” and amidst such times of desperation you wouldn’t be thinking of the hopeful future but, rather, the immediate escape from such horrific trials?
Such a timely message for all of us living in these times.
“you have to understand,/that no one puts their children in a boat/unless the water is safer than the land”.
As a violin teacher in Orange County California, it seems every little face I look into has a story like this in their family.
I think of the great great grandfather who smuggled himself onto a ship headed for America to escape the pression draft where he would have surely ended up as cannon fodder at barely 14 years old. Sadly so many of these great stories are not passed on because the bearer of there Journey does not realize have valuable this story is to their descendants. we should be more curious.
I love your reminder to be curious! Curiosity about the “other’s” story would seem to really help us understand one another better.
I love how richly reflective this is and how it brings to mind family histories that are so often not passed down anymore. The sacrifice and hope is a stark contrast to today’s world of entitlement.
Since some places foster stronger senses of entitlement than others, I wonder how entitlement affects one’s ability to hope and to sacrifice.
Thank you and thanks for taking the time to read it.
Thank you for your feedback!
Lovely reflection. I wonder what this means for a country, to respond to suffering people with such hopes. There are so many political discussions to be had about this — how should a country best be welcoming to those in need? where does security risks come in? what is a humane way to respond to those who are suffering so greatly that they take illegal roads?
You pose great and challenging questions, Rachel B! Thank you! I’ve been wrestling with some of those questions myself upon reading Shire’s original poem which really illuminates the stories people carry with them. Your questions have raised more questions, if you (or any one visiting this site) are able to discuss them with me…
The suffering, desperation, and horrors that people endure to find a “safe land” cannot be discounted and should not be dismissed.
A country also has a story to tell, including horrific, shameful, desperate chapters as well as chapters of triumph. Pardon the personification of country, but do you think a country can choose to respond to those in need in light of it’s story and out of a need-or hope-of preservation of it’s story, even if the response does not help that person in need? Is the country misled, uneducated, or wrong in doing so?
This makes me wonder if so many today, like Shire, forget their reason for hope in the midst of the trials of life, as well. Thank you for the reminder of the “why” of life.
You’re most welcome! Glad you could read it.
As Nicholas pointed out in his comment, hope may take a backseat to certain trials and overshadow the “why”. What do you think?
Very well written. Thank you for reminding us that a little hope can truly change perspective.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you!
“Shire does a disservice to the voyager by not addressing the role that hope plays within the voyager’s journey.” I think this is true. There is definitely a place for conveying the suffering and heartbreak experienced by those who are forced to leave home by circumstances outside their control, but if the pain is the sole focus it can become an unhealthy emotional voyeurism. Those of us who are more fortunate also won’t be moved to help if we don’t have a reason for hope either.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Gabbi! Your point about voyeurism, to me, brings to mind the Colosseum. Sadly, suffering is still made a sport in many places today.
Your comment makes me think of how certain practices and habits in my country feed into an unhealthy emotional voyeurism and I do think that also affects how Americans relate to others in whether or not being moved to help. I wonder if and how that affects the division that occurs in the USA today.
Your insights are much appreciated.
Kudos… this is fantastic. One time I couldnt find my car after I got evicted from my apartment. All I had was hope and twenty bucks so I went to Reno and that journey was so enriching! The traveler may not find what he’s looking for but will find what he needs.
Thanks for sharing your personal experience and perspective, Pawl.
I love your references to hope. When people go through the hardest times of their lives, it is faith and hope and love that help them persevere. Great job. Joan.
Thank you and thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Such a great reminder that the motivation of hope can make a difficult situation bearable and even positive in the end!!
Glad to hear that the essay served as a positive reminder. Thanks for reading!
Love this! A refreshing and beautiful read.
Thanks for taking the time to read! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
A needed perspective in these times, especially. Home is a delicate place and we may take it for granted. Remembering where we come from is so important to move towards the realized hope we can all meet. Great essay, hope this message reaches many.
Well said. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I’m glad you enjoyed the essay. I especially liked how you described home as a “delicate place.” Your comment reminds me of the discussion with Rachel B in the comments above if you have any insights to share.
Such was such a great read. Always nice to get a reminder of how fortunate we are to be in the positions we are in. Our ancestors worked hard, sacrificed, and endured a lot to for a better life. That we take for granted today.
You have challenged me to think about the connection about hope and suffering, and how both in a way depend on one another. Suffering without hope can feel purposeless while hope without knowledge of suffering can be naive. Thank you for pushing me to think deeper about the connection between two topics that I usually separate. And I love your emphasis on how the connection is timeless. 🙂 Very well done!
What an interesting read for our time, what a beautiful read for your writing!
Hope brings life not only physically but spiritually. Our life’s voyage whether to escape or live our personal journey requires us to respond with hope as well as to give hope for another’s journey.