Sunday, March 3, 2013

At Night Like a Child

This photograph hanging in Ellis Island shows the portrait of exhaustion through two immigrant children. I find it timeless.

Any child emigrating with their family today must feel the strain of travel and the pressure weighing on their parents. Travel and stress is exhausting on the human condition.

And I can't help feeling the exhaustion in the details--as if the sand sprinkled in their eyes does not come from a charming fantastical creation, but from the grit and spark of worry of parents...from the grinding of nerves and the irritation of hope comes the shavings of strain and the sands of sleep.

Upon closer inspection, I notice the sleeping girl on the left wears a dress over long pants--one layered atop the other. Mom dressing her daughter to protect her against the elements of twenty days of sea...and wearing one's clothes means less to carry.

This same girl sleeps on a hard bench with a crooked posture--her batteries are dead. She has checked out for a few hours.

The smaller child on the right sleeps in eternal comfort on a pillow almost three times her width and as wide as she is tall. She sleeps soundly as if she is home. She feels no danger, no fear, no pressure. She lays her head down with complete trust in the world around her.

Florescent light is spread across their faces and bodies like a white sheet. A harsh dark shadow is cast beneath the bench--is it another child...a parent...a stranger...a monster?

As I watch them sleep forever in this photograph, I wonder how children experience emigrating to another country. Is it simply an adventure? Is it frightening or is it fun--can it be both? Does it force children to grow up faster? Are children expected to be independent sooner than later--freeing up mom and dad to work, to find a way?

They still sleep.

And I continue to wonder...are immigrant children more likely to be excluded or more likely to make friends; do they long for their homeland or are they so adaptable that they feel American in this place; do they  ever leave America for good once they are old enough to make their own choices; do they feel a special bond with other immigrant children?

Or are children children, no matter where they are--able to sleep in the arid winds of Argentina just as deeply as in the fog and snows of St. John's--simply waking in adult worlds among iron monsters, glass castles, and fragile dreams?

Will adults ever sleep that soundly again?

Is being an adult resigning the ability to ever lay one's head to sleep at night like a child--where the only dragons, slings, and arrows are only found in dreams?

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to the challenge, Brian! I love this slice, love the things you see in the the photo. I have some of the same questions you ask here. I work with a lot of families who have come to NYC from other parts of the world. I see their children dealing with that upheaval in all the ways you wonder about. I've seen many different experiences of immigration. And sometimes I wonder how I -- someone who lives in the place folks are coming to -- can create a better welcome, help families find more of the over-sized pillow than the hard bench and the crick in their necks.