Expat Drifter

Last summer my mother traveled up from Seattle on Amtrak to attend my daughter’s wedding near Vancouver.  Through a miscommunication – she’s not always a cognitive straight-shooter anymore – I went a day early to Pacific Central to pick her up.  But apart from that wasted afternoon it was really nice to have her hanging out with us for a few days in the big house we rented for the occasion.

“Mom,” I said, one morning over coffee, “I’ve been making a list of all the home addresses I’ve had in my lifetime. The early years, however, are just a bit vague.  Can you walk me through all the places we lived before I left home?”

Allegedly (I had to remind her what year I was born) I have lived at more than 40 addresses in my 55 years, spread over four continents, eight countries, and multiple states and provinces.

My Canadian therapist told me I should just accept it, embrace my identity, live out the opportunities my unique background has afforded me.  That said, I’m slightly suspicious of having to cover this ground with a therapist in the first place.  Besides, she was a immigrant herself, from Belgium; who was she trying to convince?

En fin, the fact is I’m an economic migrant, having taken an interesting job in London because it seemed to fit me better than what was on offer in Canada.  But unlike the young foreign worker who just delivered a package to my door, I’m allowed to wear the “Expat” badge because I speak English fluently, have a university education, and someone else paid to ship my household goods.

Oh, and I’m white and middle-aged.  The National Health Service, after reviewing my employment contract and residency documents, recently sent me a little note confirming “You are ENTITLED” (their caps).  I’m familiar with the status but it is unusual to have it spelled out so clearly.

A few weeks ago when I arrived at an early morning meeting of our management team at Heathrow I found the group sharing photos on their phones.  As a priest I’ve learned not to be too eager to view other’s photo collections.  (Early in my Church career I made a house call together with a bishop and, when the host went to make coffee, the bishop picked up the nearest – as it happens, pornographic – magazine and casually flipped through it.  Before the man returned, the Right Reverend neatly put it back in the stack with the discreet comment, “Well, I guess that’s private,” and left it at that.  I was impressed.  But, gentle reader, here’s a thought: when you know the bishop is coming round for coffee, perhaps a good time to put your porn away?)

Anyway, my colleagues were quite happy to share the photos with me.  Here’s one:

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A fox.  A fox in the Multi Faith Prayer Room of Terminal 3.  Urban foxes are something of a plague in London and this rather healthy looking specimen undoubtedly wandered into the Terminal sometime in the night and made its way through the open door of the prayer room.  When discovered by a member of the airport staff it was curled up in the corner, fast asleep and unnoticed by a man kneeling not far away saying his morning prayers.

The fox naturally generated a lot of staff chatter.  The photos and humorous comments made the rounds of internal social media, the Christian chaplains marvelled at God’s wonderful world and made reference to some fox-related quotes of Jesus, and everyone wanted a name for the creature.  Later, there was general satisfaction that the pest control company was unable to send anyone to capture the fox (their parent company was declared bankrupt that day so no one showed up for work).  In the end the fox was chased back out of the building, the prayer room was subjected to a deep clean, and everyone got back to work.

The Rabbi though, his words left me thinking: “In our faith we believe that we as human beings were here before.  As we need to accomplish something in this world, if we do not accomplish it, we come back in a different form.  So I would suggest – one never knows – who is in the Fox?”

I can’t speak to the afterlife part.  But a stranger who drifts in, not really at home, and yet comfortable enough to curl up for a bit before moving on again?

I know that fox’s name.

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