Every day I read news stories. Most of it pretty depressing. Government shut down. Children found shackled, chained and starved. Olympic gymnasts delivering impact statements in court about their sexual abuser, the team doctor. And so many others.
It can get pretty depressing.
So, I have to look for the good I can find. Amidst all the bad, those sparks of hope that survive through cold need to be savored, nurtured…and shared.
Last night I had the privilege of attending a Supple Club organized by Empowering Refugees – Atlanta, and hosted in a private home. As part of the dinner, a chef family — of refugees — prepared our meal, in this case an abundance of Syrian delicacies. The husband was actually a chef; he told me he spent four days preparing the food in his small kitchen. After the meal, he and his wife told us their story and answered our questions. Their story was their own. How they met. What happened to them and their families in Syria, and in the other Middle Eastern countries they went to before the UN resettled them in the US.
The women I was with, all of us members of a group dedicated to allowing Jewish, Muslim and others to get to know each other better, peppered the couple with questions. Our group, which I’ve written about before, includes native born Americans who’ve lived their whole lives in the United States. But it also included women who’ve traveled extensively or lived in other countries or moved to the US from countries ranging from Mexico to Bangladesh. And a former refugee from Afghanistan. We asked about their life in Syria, about the process of getting resettled, of how they and their children are adjusting in their new home, about the family they left behind.
Empowering Refugees’ aim is precisely that — to give the newcomers the support they need to start their lives off well. The group also helps the refugees build their own network of friends so that they will not always need the group’s support.
It was an uplifting evening.
I’ve blogged before about how I think we all need to get to know people from other backgrounds, how important it is to make an effort on a personal level. But this goes deeper than that; the tragedy that’s hit the Syrian people — victims of their own government, insurgents, ISIS and Russians put the civilians in the crosshairs of everyone. And for America to shun them the way they have is unbearable.
In that blog, I also mentioned how I think what Brandon Stanton does is so important. In chronicling Humans of New York, he drives home what binds us all as humans. Not what divides us. Brandon, a Marietta native, published an in-depth series on Syrian refugees in America a few years back. That, and the preceding one on Syrian refugees in Greece, Hungary, Croatia and Austria are heart-wrenching. No less than the story of the couple we heard last night.
We asked them if given today’s climate they regret having come here. And they said no. The United States is still a land of opportunity and they are happy they came.
And all I could think of is how so many Americans need to hear each refugee family’s story. Not just to understand where they come from, not just to humanize this group of strong people, but also to understand how they view our country…and how Emma Lazarus portrayed us back in 1883:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”