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Tag: syrian refugees

“anyone with a heart can change the world.”

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“anyone with a heart can change the world.”

those words, spoken above the din of a crowded downtown aerie, with the city lights twinkling outside, with the clatter of forks against plates, stopped me. startled me. gave me a deep gulp of hope, the deepest in a very long time.

the man who spoke those words knows a thing or two about hearts — not least because he’s an intensive care doctor. not least because he works in hospitals in aleppo, in bomb-rubbled syria. in aleppo where bombs rain down in triplicate, a tactic intended to kill the rescuers as certainly as those in the midst of being pulled from the ruin.

just minutes before, the man who spoke those words — a gentle man with deep brown eyes that bore deeply into me as we spoke, inches away from a table spilling with pigs-in-a-blanket and shrimp and asparagus in long green shafts — had been telling stories to the crowd about being in an underground hospital in aleppo last summer — before it was too dangerous, before death was too certain to stay. he’d been telling stories of a mother of four, who’d been hit by a barrel bomb (a makeshift bomb filled with shrapnel, and chlorine gas), a mother who’d lost her unborn child and two of the three (ages 9, 7 and 5) who’d been huddled beside her.

i listened, rapt, as he told the stories, as he pulled the memories in real-time from inside the vault of tragedies now locked in his mind.

i’d listened a few minutes earlier as another syrian, a therapist who’d come to this country eight years ago, talked about the first months when a family is here in america. how everything — from the alphabet, to bus tickets — is practically indecipherable. how each morning, you awake in something of a daze, in that instant before you remember you’re far far from home. lost in a foreign landscape.

and, here’s the part i remember most, she said that the smallest kindness, the invitation to dinner, the gentle word at the checkout counter, the guiding hand at the bus stop, is never to be forgotten. you will never forget the face of the someone who was kind to you — never, ever.

i wasn’t taking notes; i was listening, so i can’t remember exactly how many syrian families are now living in chicago, forced here by war and unthinkable horrors. i want to say it’s 140. i do know the number is slowing to a trickle, and soon stopping (because of the so-called muslim ban that effectively puts up the “not welcome here” sign). i do know that each of those families, some clustered on chicago’s north side, some in suburbs to the west, have lived through hell, and traveled through hell to get here.

the syrian families who’ve been here longer, since the 1960s and 1970s some of them, when an earlier wave of mostly doctors and engineers packed up their families and moved here, they’re leading the network, the syrian community network.

they’re asking for the simplest list of supplies: rice in 10-pound bags; chickpeas in 28-ounce cans; sugar in four-pound sacks; flour, five pounds; oil in 48-ounce bottles; tomato sauce in cans of 28 ounces; and tea bags, too (no size or amount specified). they’re asking that the foodstuffs be dropped at one of two pantries — saturday, tuesday, and thursday, in glendale heights; saturday, monday and wednesday, on devon avenue on chicago’s north side.**

and they made the nifty card up above, with a whole menu of ways to help: from donating a CTA bus pass, to hosting a dinner. there’s word that someone is organizing an effort — 100 dinners in 100 days — to emphatically urge hospitality, to gather good souls, strangers soon to be friends, at the dinner table. to spend the day cooking, and serving up platters of very fine food. food to fill the belly, but more so the heart.

i’m awaiting word on the dinners. i want my house filled with the sounds of conversation, starting out slow and in delicate tones, and then rising, rising across the arc of a night, into the combustive discourse of joy. of gentleness. of one hand reaching for a water pitcher, or a platter of coriander-spiced lentils, bumping into another. and in that instant of hand bumping up against hand, i want eyes to look up, to look shyly, and then melt in the confidence of newfound friendship.

those are the miracles that unfold at the platter-filled table. those are the joys of a jumble of chairs squeezed round the plank of a dining table. it’s the arc from uncertain handshake at the start of the night, to hug that won’t let go as the guests finally walk out under the starlit dome.

“anyone with a heart can change the world.”

those are the words the doctor spoke to me. those are the words of which he was certain. and his certainty reminded me what i’ve always believed: one little heart, one undeterred heart, it can be more than plenty to begin to change the course of history.

one dollop of love at a time. it’s the only place to begin.

how might you use your heart today to begin to change the world? 

sending much love to my friend A who organized the gathering of syrian friends at her sky-high abode, and who opened the door to infinite hospitality.

** if you’re interested in dropping off groceries at the food pantry, leave a comment below, and i can email you the precise address. 

and in case you’re inclined to help make a home for a syrian family, here’s the list of what’s needed. 

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never again, we promised

little boy heartbreak

i don’t often bring world news to the table. not because i don’t pay attention to it each and every day. mostly because most of the time the holiest way i know how to live is to saturate the moment, the space before me, with all the heart and soul i can muster.

but there are moments and images that shatter. that land on my kitchen table with the plop of the morning’s newsprint. that stop me cold in my tracks. that propel me to drop to my knees, or tumble me out the door, where i stand beneath heaven’s dome, and i open my heart and my prayers, and i beg for an answer: what can i do? what can we do? how can we gather up this suffering, how can we put balm to the wounds of the world, how can we heal the broken children, broken dreams, broken hearts?

dear God, how can we make a drop of a difference?

so it was when i saw the photo of the turkish policeman lifting the little syrian boy who had drowned in a moonlit sea. drowned when a boat built for 10 had been loaded — overloaded — with 17, too many of them little children. not long after setting out across the aegean sea, escaping from the war-torn hell that is syria, hoping to make it to kos, the island off greece, the little boat capsized, and 12 children, aged nine months to 11 years old, were lost, drowned in the dark, dark waters.

i’d seen the photo the day before of the limp little boy, face pressed against the sand, bare little legs, sensible shoes buckled, still buckled, after he’d washed to shore.

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and then the next morning’s news — on the front page of the wall street journal, a paper held in the hands of decision makers around the U.S., around much of the world — showed the next frame in the story: the turkish policeman lifting, cradling, the little boy. the legs limp, bent at the knee, a little hand folded across the little boy’s tummy.

little boy heartbreak

dead and alone at the edge of the sea, chased away by a war that won’t stop.

little boy, being lifted too late.

and so we need to pay attention, all of us.

amid the first light of dawn, i offered a prayer for the little boy, and all of the others.

truth is, i don’t know what to do, and my prayers feel too hollow. not that they’re not prayed with fiercest urgency. but what i want is to airlift myself to the syrian shore, where throngs of terrified mothers and the children who cling to them are emptying their pockets and purses of whatever currency they can manage to scrounge, climbing into rickety boats, and setting sail under the light of the moon that glistens across the water, and falls, too, across my backyard, falls across my collapsed black-eyed susans and the anemone that nod through the night. (is there not some mystical unifying force — lunar pull — as the beams of the same gibbous moon shine down on all of us, syrian refugees adrift on the sea, and, halfway across the very same globe, our own ramshackle gardens?) i want to walk through the train station of budapest, where babies are cradled against mamas’ chests, tucked under arms, made to sleep on the hard station floor, or out in the city square, where one family — a syrian refugee father, his wife, and their baby — threw themselves across the train tracks in protest, and would not be moved. i want to reach out a hand, offer my home as a place to sleep and eat and be safe, find their bearings in this terrible world that’s chased them from their home, their life, the world as they knew it and loved it.

i’m certain i sound naive, my too-simple solution, my impulse for healing the wounds of the world. but how can we believe in the power of love, the gospel of love, and not believe in trying?

so what will we do, those of us captured by the image of the drowned little boy, haunted all day by the shrieks followed by silence?

there is a river of humanity — women and children and the men who love them — pushed from their homes; rickety boats succumb to roiling seas, and trains refuse to budge, won’t carry the war-torn to safety. the world is watching. we have promised and promised again: we won’t stand back and watch horrors unfold.

horrors are unfolding. voices are crying.

never again, we promised. so how are we keeping our promise?

the question is literal as much as rhetorical, what can we do? what wise response might we muster?