Just before we began making passage, something sparked my interest in the Huguenot Refuge. I don’t know much about my family’s heritage, and I’ve never cared much. I live here and now, and I’ve never been sure how it benefits me to align with a culture or place that is not here and now.
That being said, my grandmother loved genealogy, and she was especially fascinated with our French Huguenot lineage. Occasionally, a story she told me in my childhood will resurface and send me down a rabbit hole.
In my January wanderings, I learned that many of the Huguenots were prosperous, educated landowners who chose to give up their wealth and live in more egalitarian communities to better emulate the teachings of Christ. When they were violently persecuted by the French government, they took to boats and made passage to places where their skills and talents and ideas would be a blessing rather than a curse. Their arrival was a boon for most host countries, stimulating economies and intellectual conversations. They blessed their hosts with their wine cultivation skills, their imaginative carpentry, and their philosophical musings.
Because they carried their homes with them, a snail was one of their secret symbols. They carved small snails onto armoires and stitched them into embroidery as a reminder to one another that there is no permanent home on earth, that we are all always underway.
While we were making passage this week, we experienced for the first time the terror of being underway. Unexpected winter storms blew up both times we took to the Mississippi Sound, and we were tossed like the insignificant flotsam we are. Even after we moored in Bay St. Louis, we experienced cold, wet, long, uncomfortable nights as the storm battered us against the finger pier moorings.
During those sleepless nights, I couldn’t help thinking of all the refugees in the world today who have no permanent home, who are mercilessly exposed to all of the hardships of the world. Unlike us, they didn’t have a choice about their discomfort and homelessness. They were forced from their homes by poverty, abusive governments, any number of circumstances unimaginable to comfortable Americans.
When we arrived in Gulfport, Mississippi, we gave up on our plans to continue our eastward passage until the weather improves. We were warmly welcomed by the marina staff and other live aboard boaters. We were enthusiastically welcomed by the congregation of St. Peter By the Sea, the Episcopal church where we went to express our gratitude for safe passage. My parents paid for our two month slip lease so we could settle in without having to worry about that one thing since there are so many other things to worry about.
Not every traveler experiences such charitable welcome. Not every refugee experiences refuge, a word that was coined to describe the situation of the French Huguenots fleeing an oppressive regime. It’s often those who need it most who are denied compassion, who are denied a temporary home port to gather their bearings. Unlike us, refugees often have no friends or families better situated to help when they’re tempest tossed and washed up in a new place.
We have been so abundantly cared for by those of you who love us. I have very little to offer in return except this: remember that we are all underway. Always. Welcome those who come to you battered and broken by the storm. Find ways to ease the passage for those who have no energy left to take another step. Please don’t forget the many people wandering the world today who have no choice in the matter and no place to call home, no family to call their own, no friends eager to help.
I’ll write more on our passage from New Orleans and our new temporary home in Gulfport later this week. Until then, think buoyant thoughts.