by Sue Sawaged
“…but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” – Patrick Henry
If you were to ask me if I remember the day my parents left, the answer would be I do not. But I imagine to a child whose mother and father have gone to settle in America, time would take on a dimension all of its own. The days would seem longer than twenty-four hours, the hours longer than sixty minutes and the minutes themselves would seem infinite.
What I do remember is how I passed the time while they were away. In the mornings after breakfast, I joined my grandfather on the roof of our house where he raised chickens. I threw the gritty chicken feed and dozens of birds scurried to the middle. I loved how they squawked and flapped their wings when I chased them. My grandfather scooped me up into his arms and hoisted me onto his shoulders and pointed to the West, toward the horizon, past the rooftops of the stone houses and the open woodlands of olive and pistachio trees, past the orchards plump and pregnant with grapes, their vines bending toward the sun.
From the roof, I saw the whole town of Al Husn stretched before me. Baba and Mama were out there, beyond the horizon, somewhere beyond where the clouds disappeared and left only a faint blue light.
Many years after I was reunited with my parents in America, I asked my father why we came to this country, why he left his mother and father, his only brother and his younger sisters…why he left his childhood friends, his classmates, and the only home he knew. But most importantly, I asked him why he left me.
“For freedom”, he said. “To make a good life for you. For us.”
In 1965, my father traveled with my mother over 6,000 miles from a small town in the Arab country of Jordan to the land of liberty, the United States of America, where a man could pursue an honest life and not be denied his chance, where its citizens may move freely within her vast borders without hindrance or fear, a land brimming with opportunity and freedom of choice.
As I sit here writing, I imagine what it would have been like for my father, back in 1965, had he not immigrated to this country. He could not have publicly denounced his King without fear of imprisonment. Had he owned a liquor store, he could not have served alcohol during daylight hours on Ramadan Fridays. He could not have walked publicly with the woman who would become my mother had they not been betrothed or engaged. And had Saudi Arabia been his country of birth, as a Christian, he would have had to worship underground.
And I wonder what life would have been like for me.
In the 45 years that my father has lived in this country, he has obtained a fine education and retired from a company that provided an honest living with wages that could support seven children, now all grown and successful. He is free to worship, vote, speak and assemble along with the other liberties he is afforded as a citizen of the United States under its Constitution. He is free to simply be happy. These are liberties to which we are all entitled as citizens.
Thomas Jefferson said, “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.” I am forever grateful to my father and mother for pursuing freedom and liberty for themselves and their family.
Suhair (Sue) Sawaged is an avid reader and finds great joy in the beauty of a poem or the calming feeling of well crafted prose. She loves travel, writing, gardening, baking, taking long soaks in a bubbly bath, and talking to the moon.
Sue lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with her three children and yellow Lab, Noelle.