“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.” -Carlos Fuentes
The most gratifying part of my work is when people, often whom I have never met, but have somehow been introduced to this weekly column, come greet me at a tradeshow booth with a hug and sometimes tears in their eyes. A guy today walked by several times before getting up the courage to come and speak to me. One of my old columns from years ago, struck him at a desperate low in his life, and today he shared how he had felt “held” in that moment. ‘You weren’t giving advice, you were sharing your own wounds so I could feel mine.” Meeting in our pain is the path to the highest form of our capacity for love- compassion. Right past our brokenness, when someone cares enough to witness, to listen, to expose their own, is where the heart literally turns on. It is the moment we are all waiting for every day.
And yet, as we each grapple with our own personal stories of loss and disconnection, the world is witnessing an exodus of millions of refugees escaping violence, starvation and terrorism in their homelands. They walk in a river of humanity for thousands of miles with little food and children on their shoulders, having lost so much of their lives and people they love that exodus is the only choice they have. They are desperate in their loss, as is the world they are coming into. Seemingly, no one knows what to do or who should be responsible for this sea of humanity with no home, no food. The countries they are trying to enter who are blocking their borders are already beleaguered with their own seemingly insurmountable problems of not enough work, resources and food for their own people.
The already weakened dream of the European Union is tested more deeply still. Not only can a single currency survive; more importantly, can a common humanity triumph? This is the question not just for European nations but for the world. We watch as governments weigh security issues and political futures against what it means to open ourselves to the lost. We have held a refugee ceiling at 70,000 since 9/11 and, to this crisis we have offered space for 10,000 more. We are a country of refugees- all of us at some time in our personal and collective history, running from loss, leaving behind what we know to find a home.
While we wait and watch fear escalate on the borders, hope is being generated not by government officials, but by the people themselves. When the government of Iceland offered to take a few hundred refugees, the people started a Facebook group in which over 11,000 have offered space in their homes. Welcoming home those that are lost on our tiny planet begins with how we think. The idea that those lost are threats to our security, that terrorists could be among their midst turns them into “the other.” We create our own security risks by holding those who need us apart. Where fear reigns, isolation and loss hardens into anger and retaliation.
Today, I learned again that we are all friends that are yet to meet. Through my writing work, I have offered up the jagged half steps of my own healing for others to jump on board. There is always more that we can do to bridge the gap to those who are lost around us- at our work places, in our communities, and in our families. Fear keeps us separate, bystanders to the loss and grief of others and distanced even from the compassionate light we need for our own brokenness.
I don’t know how to open my home to refugees yet, but I am working on it because I know that what this world needs more than anything is more love, more ways to break into the softest part of our own capacity to feel and connect. Today, as I witnessed Michael’s tears roll down his cheeks, sharing both his grief and relief, I am honored and reminded that the only really pressing work in the world is to connect to the light in our heart and stay there.