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Around this time last year, a woman named Sarah Hyde found a message in a bottle written in Spanish. With help from a friend, she discovered it amounted to a sort of prayer written by the sender, wishing for the safe passage of a family from Cuba to America.

I just wanted to share this story as we enter the holiday season. It should resonate with anyone celebrating Christmas, which, let’s remember, is a holiday with a story attached. Part of that story involves a family (i.e., Jesus’s family) seeking shelter in foreign lands (first Bethlehem, then Egypt).

The Reverend Dr. Serene Jones, writing for TIME, says, “The Christmas story reminds us of a family struggling under the yoke of an oppressive regime…And [reminds us] to open our hearts and our doors to those seeking refuge this Christmas season, whatever their religion.”

Here’s the video of Sarah and her find.

Politically, I am not going to weigh in on what should be the fate of folks who raft into the US from Cuba. The US has a relatively clear(ish) policy about this–known colloquially as the “Wet feet / Dry feet” policy–but I do know one thing: no one deserves to die for seeking a better life. So, like Sarah Hyde, the finder of this bottle, I hope the people mentioned in the message survived the seas, wherever they ended up.

Somehow, this bottled note got me thinking: What if I weren’t born in the US? What if I lived somewhere in conditions so desperate, I was willing to risk my life just to get somewhere better?

This holiday season, I will be thinking about how grateful I am to live in America, despite the challenges we face from year to year. I am grateful to live in a free society, protected by laws and ideas and folks who dedicate their lives to serving the country, like my grandpa who was in the Navy for 30 years, my many other family members who have served in various military and civil branches of government, and also my friends who are firefighters, EMTs, doctors, teachers, artists, etc. I am grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had to teach immigrant students over the years, who have surely taught me as much as I have taught them. I am also grateful, as always, to have stumbled into this hobby that allows me to make friends out of strangers from all over the world, including America. In short, I am grateful for the beautiful, messy adventure that is America. Long may the adventure continue!

Here’s wishing you and yours a safe and happy holiday season, whatever your religion, and whether you are religious or not. May your family gatherings be merry and bright; May you bond over the things that unite you, and avoid letting your politics come between you. Wherever your travels take you this holiday season and in the rest of your life, I hope you will be received by people with big hearts and open arms. Safe travels!

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