An immigrant family reunited at Thanksgiving

YESTERDAY I looked over diaries written during my first three years in exile after leaving Romania. I recalled the whole struggle I had with myself to maintain my patience and to overcome loneliness and unhappiness while missing my family for so long. Among other memories, I discovered a letter, written on a bench in a square in a city in West Germany, a letter I never mailed. I didn't mail it because I would have felt embarrassed knowing that someone else would read my thoughts and my sentiments before those to whom I addressed them: my wife and my children.

Reading it again, I thought back to waiting for that unknown but beautiful day when God would send me my family as a gift. Now I can reveal part of that letter:

My dear family, I'm writing to you for the first time since I've been here in exile. The word ``exile'' may sound bizarre to you. I know it has a sad meaning and it refers to someone who has been forced or decided himself to live in a place far away from his home, even outside of his country and entirely isolated from his or her dearest parents, brothers, sisters, wife, children, other relatives or friends, and, of course, from his sweet native language.

For me it means also a sign of protest toward the unfair orders which I could hardly endure to live with.

What hurts me a lot is that I cannot be with you at this moment, that I won't be with you for a long time and that you cannot see me as a real father, as you once did, leaving you in the morning and coming back home in the evening. I remember how you came jumping into my path with big smiles, asking: What did you bring us?

And you knew that even when I didn't have anything in my hand, which happened once in a while, I always brought you a kiss and my love and lifted you up into my arms and you laughed and all of us were happy seeing each other again. Now for you I'm probably only a voice, talking sometimes to you for a couple of minutes over the phone. I'm sorry I was not allowed to take your pictures with me, but I'm keeping you on the screen of my memory and in my heart.

I will always recall that evening in December, before I left you behind in the snow. How right you were, my little girl, when you saw me carrying luggage; you said I looked like an immigrant. Yes, my sweetheart, at that time I was about to be an immigrant and now I'm one of the millions of immigrants around the world, looking for a place of freedom for me - and for you, too.

With me, here, in this building full of immigrants, live many other fathers like me whose names may sound strange to you: Ahmet, Ianusz, Wladislaw, Joseph, Sam, Ramos, Boris, Enver, Ralph, Attila, Hassan. They all have only one dream: freedom for them and their family.

What are we doing here in this West German refugee camp? We're not allowed to work. Instead, we think and learn a new culture and a new language, and also we wait, wait for an official and decisive document, approval to live anywhere we want.

There are hundreds of days that I've been here, waiting for that document. I'd say the most beautiful day of my exile time will be the day when I'll meet you again - and for good, in another country, over the ocean, in a home full of joy and prosperity.

Until that day we have to be patient and careful; we have to pray and also to keep that helpful smile in our hearts and on our faces. See you soon. With best wishes, your mother with a beard.

After almost three years of separation from my family, I never gave up waiting for them to come. Arriving in the United States, I found freedom - and welfare which as a healthy man I hated. I never hesitated to work as hard as I could to prepare the kind of standard of living that I was sure my family would be happy with.

Among other jobs I was a custodian in a church. This job seemed to me not only a source of existence. I thought it was also a privilege to be in a house of God and to pray silently, even at work. I never knew the day when my family would arrive, but I started to prepare a warm and comfortable spot for them. Besides a living space, I had to find a good school for the children, and a job for their mother. My difficulties with American English were like a barrier.

I will never forget the friends whose support I felt during my first year in the United States. It astonished me to see how people coming here from other countries can help each other like brothers. I discovered myself surrounded not only by friends, but by a big and wonderful family. The diversity in unity makes the beauty of this blessed country.

Soon I learned that my most beautiful day was coming. I got a letter saying that my family would arrive soon.

It was in November, a night before Thanksgiving. My apartment was ready to welcome my wife and my children. A senior citizen and a white South African woman had helped me with curtains and other things I couldn't prepare myself. The refrigerator was full of food and the turkey fit for a king.

We decorated the front door, too, in a specific American way, and above that decoration I wrote in Romanian and English: ``Bine ati venit la casa voastra! - Welcome to your house!''

In a short while at the right time and at the right gate I found myself at the airport waiting for my family. I wore my new suit bought especially for that day, and I brought in my heart joy, and in my hand a bouquet of white carnations, to remind my wife of the day of our wedding.

In that moment of seeing them I forget those more than a thousand days waiting for the mail; I forget all of those thousands of hard moments when I wished for them and I missed them, and I tried to help them come as soon as possible.

Years ago I had left them as if I were going across the street to the store. None of us could know then what would happen in the coming days and years.

And now our meeting happened so simply, as if we had parted from each other early that morning. Nothing bothered them at all. The only things I remember of that moment are their smiles, their big and innocent smiles and our embracing.

The next day was Thanksgiving. I enjoyed it and I expressed my gratitude to God for the wonderful and unique gift He has given to me: my family. Since that time, Thanksgiving day has for us a very particular meaning, and we celebrate it with gratefulness.

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