It’s incredible how easily all intelligence is lost when you find yourself alone and drowning in a linguistic sea foreign to your own. When you don’t know a language even the simplest of tasks—ordering a coffee, locating the restroom, coordinating a train schedule—become dauntingly impossible. Anxiety, fear, frustration, and nervousness become my default modes as I gasp for something familiar and guardedly ask for assistance hoping not to upset someone or embarrass myself. So quickly that uncomfortably familiar sensation of over-sensitivity and fear of rejection, once thought left behind in middle-school, overtakes me as I jostle to find steady ground.
It is this awareness that reminds me of the refugees and immigrants that I have come to know in Louisville at Catholic Charities, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, and Americana. So easily can doctoral and various advanced degrees be striped away when one is surrounded by the ignorance of the unfamiliar. There is something humbling to stand disconnected, isolated, in a crowd full of strangers. Without any means or capacity for communication your humanity is shaven off with each sharp glance and doubted look. Desperate for a connection with something, you helplessly reach for the familiar and cling immediately, with both hands, to the first sight, sound, or vision of comfort.
Even now, stowed-away on a train not that of my original plan nor ticket, I hope for that once discarded invisibility cloak to rest again upon my shoulders so that I may be unnoticed and overlooked to avoid question or conflict. In a few short hours I will arrive in Lourdes with hopes that it’s refreshing waters will ease my mind.