When Foreign Becomes Familiar

Weeks ago when I scheduled the appointment for today, I remember thinking it was an appropriate day to go have my port accessed.  It was appropriate as it was within the monthly time period needed to flush the port and also because it was my birthday.  It made sense to celebrate the day, in a brief way, with a reminder of how much had happened in the previous year and to remember to be thankful for life.

When I got to the the clinic I was greeted by a familiar face as I checked in and when asked to confirm my birthday I responded, “Fifty-three years ago today!” 🙂 After a short wait, I made my way back through the infusion clinic accompanied by another familiar face. I knew the drill. This should be (and was) a quick procedure.  The nurses were familiar. Their familiar smiles and greetings were welcome and glimpses of moments and memories ran through my mind.  While I did not know any of those who were receiving treatment, nor those who were there in support, it was familiar.

As I walked out, consciously smiling and seeking to make eye contact with as many as I could, I was aware that the scene had once been so foreign to me. A year ago, I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know what it would be like. I did not know what it would feel like, physically, mentally or emotionally.  What had been foreign was now familiar.


Having studied a second, and briefly a third language I have an awareness of learning to communicate using what were once unfamiliar sounds and words. The study of a foreign language began as an academic exercise. It was what was done to complete enrollment requirements. Through no fault of my instructor (although I would not have admitted that as a high school student)  the pursuit of achieving fluid communication skills in another language was not high on my list. I wanted good grades, as that motivated me, but I did not appreciate the value of the foreign becoming familiar…at that point.

In what would be a short time frame, after pausing my language studies, the appreciation grew. Appreciation for the foreign becoming familiar became a part of me. Having the opportunity to experience new places, new sounds, new tastes and new people opened my heart and mind to feelings that I hope never become so familiar that I do not seek them out. I hope I will always want to seek out the thoughts of others who are not a part of my routine, my familiar places.


I enjoy exploring new places. I enjoy discovering new bookstores, bakeries, small towns, parks, countries.  They are familiar to someone, but new to me. They are foreign in that I don’t know my way around. I don’t know the specialties and have yet to establish favorites. I don’t have likes or dislikes. I don’t know the routine, what is common or uncommon.  The patterns aren’t evident yet.


A recent trip to England reminded me of some of  the reasons I like exploring. There is a sense of accomplishment when conquering the challenges of negotiating a previously unknown transportation system. There is an appreciation for new sights, sounds and smells.  I consciously seek out glimpses of a typical day, the everyday of those who inhabit the new territory.  I enjoy the many languages and gestures that accompany the sounds. The new environment is a reminder that life is going on all over the place.

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People are people. That statement is not meant to be profound. It is simply a reminder to me that in every foreign and familiar location, people are people. Mothers are seeking to care for their children…aromas entice appetites…children are curious…those who are in love walk closely together…puppies bring laughter…emotions are expressed…and so on.


In exploring the foreign, I like the moments that become familiar. I like the feeling of finding the spots that become personal to my experience; the streets that become familiar as they are walked repetitively.  I like finding bookstores, bakeries, towns, parks and countries that become a part of my story and are now somewhat familiar.  I love feeling like I’ve made strides in communicating in a meaningful and clear manner with those who are living in their familiar places.


I’m fortunate to have many places that have become familiar.  I also have sought out to make more foreign places (and people) become familiar.  They aren’t all geographically far away, but some are. There is a gap that becomes smaller and less formidable. Sometimes the gap is tightened by means of a smile, a common cause, a shared experience, laughter or tears, a meal…there are many possible scenarios. The experiences in the foreign, the unfamiliar, are human experiences.


Please, please NOTE that foreign is not limited to other lands!


As these many thoughts are coursing through my heart and mind since mid morning, I am taken to events that occurred on foreign soil today. This time I am referring to a land far from here. As I think of the tragic events impacting Belgium at this moment, my heart thinks on many horrific events that have occurred in our world lately. Tragic events have taken place in so many communities where people are people. My heart is sad and burdened. My heart is thinking of those who lost people they love and those who are seeking answers and shelter.  I am grieved.  I’m grieved for the loss of life and for the changes that will take place in the lives of the many who lived near the impacted regions. It seems these tragedies are becoming all too familiar. That grieves me.  In the grief, I am thinking of how I don’t want fear to become what is familiar.  I do not want hatred to become familiar. I do not want to politicize the lives that were lost and the lives that continue in this devastation.  I want love, compassion, grace, along with shared grief to be familiar. I want these things to be familiar in our response to something that I wish was foreign to our thought and experience.

There are times I am thankful for the foreign that becomes familiar. Familiar can be comfortable and can bring a sense of achievement. However, in this hurting world, it is my hope that hatred and fear would be seen as the unusual, the foreign, and  love mixed with grace would become familiar.




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