an essay by Devon Cone
Home can be elusive. I’ve spent my entire career working with refugees and asylum-seekers. People who have been forced to leave their homes and who often spend decades in limbo in places they can’t call home and in places where they never feel like they belong. It is both heart-wrenching and incredibly motivating to work on behalf of so many people who continuously feel unsafe, unwelcome, and uncertain about everything.
It also stands in stark contrast to my own experience. To do this job, I have had no permanence myself. Isn’t it true that we learn the value of something when we know its opposite? We know what joy is because we can contrast it to suffering, we appreciate health because we know what it feels like to be sick, we understand comfort because we can compare it to discomfort. My work has helped me appreciate every little convenience, every warm house, every welcoming word, every comfortable bed, every good meal, every moment of outdoor adventure. It even makes me appreciate my passport, one that allows me (pre-COVID) to come and go throughout this world as I please. And coming and going is certainly what I have done.
My career in refugee protection and advocacy has required that I move from crisis to crisis around the world. In many cases, I worked tirelessly to resettle refugees to entirely new countries where they could start their lives over again and hopefully find some sense of home and permanence.
For a decade, I moved time and time again. From Kenya, to Egypt, to Uganda, to Lebanon, to Greece, and sometimes several times within each country, I had to uproot myself and move. I was responding to refugee emergencies as my job demanded. It was an amazing time of intense stress, remarkable friendships, devastating violence, and adventurous travel. Each country was unique, and the political issues I had to navigate were complex and varied. Even the “homes” I lived in were remarkably different. I lived in apartments and pre-fabricated trailers, tents, hotels, and even a corrugated metal shed for several months. But there was one commonality throughout this time period, one thread that kept me grounded. Wherever my work assignments took me, before I moved on to the next crisis, I came back to Crested Butte.
Crested Butte has undoubtedly changed over the last 20-plus years since my parents built a cabin. But, after living through the Egyptian revolution and other major global upheavals, returning to Crested Butte for a few weeks always felt like I was in the calmest, steadiest, least changing spot in the world. It is definitely all relative.
Five years ago, I moved back to the U.S. I accepted a new job and moved into a beautiful historic rowhouse in D.C. The job still required me to travel overseas at least once a month to places like Bangladesh, Mozambique, South Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, and Ecuador. And I was trying to come to Crested Butte about as frequently to see my partner. This meant I was on a plane every week or two, and sometimes my apartment felt like more of a layover than home.
Then, in March 2020, everything changed, and we were all instructed to “stay-at-home.” So, where was home for me? Was it alone in my D.C. apartment eating take-out and FaceTiming with my boyfriend? Was it at my parents’ suburban house with ample space? Was it back to one of the countries where I had so many friends and felt so inspired? There was really no question. The moment my office went remote, I came to Crested Butte. All I had with me was a purse, my laptop, and my wallet—I expected to be here for three weeks.
I am now coming up on a year since I arrived. In a matter of days, I went from living alone in the middle of D.C., working every moment, running around to meetings on Capitol Hill, and flying all over the world every few weeks, to living in a small town with my partner and two kids, having zero work travel, spending so much more time outside, and working from an “office” on the couch. My life has truly transformed.
Crested Butte, a place where I came to recharge in between the rest of life, is now my life. As much as all of the travel and in-person events and meetings are important to my work and even my identity, it doesn’t feel as significant anymore anyway. What is important to me now is the beauty of the mountains, the relationship with my partner and his children, my physical and emotional well-being, the ability I have to take two steps outside and be biking or skiing or trail running, and the comfort I have of feeling loved and like I belong.
For someone who works day and night to find displaced people homes, I am so glad that I have found mine.