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CONNECTING WITH COMPASSION

This weekend in a tiny little shop, in a large city, I experienced reality face to face. Most of the time we move along in life minding our own business, preoccupied with our family life and our jobs, we just move through the motions and get from waking up to falling asleep and onto the next day when we repeat and do it all over again. Life is filled with special moments  and events that stand out in our memories both positively and negatively, our wedding day or graduating from university are two examples of happy occasions we cherish and we take photos and have a party to celebrate the milestone. Sometimes we have an unwelcome event, like a car accident, instead of our routine commute to work where we sometimes don't even remember the drive, we can find our car embedded in another car. We remember that very distinctly because it upsets our world. This weekend I experienced a personal moment that brought the reality of the nightly news into my personal space. Impetuously I joined a couple of friends on a mundane trip to a grocery store, except in this case one of my friends is Turkish and her grocery store is a Mediterranean grocery store run by people of Middle Eastern descent. In that jumbled, cramped, over-stuffed store on a random street in a typical American city I met a stranger that brought current affairs hurtling into my consciousness.

grocery store

My friend was standing at the deli counter and asked the old man behind the counter for some cheese from the case. He began a conversation with her because she goes there regularly and they are politely familiar with each other. They were speaking Turkish until I joined her at the counter when they changed languages to English. After a few sentences the man asked her, "Have you heard what is happening now?" We both assumed he meant the ongoing situation in the Middle East.

I said, "Yes, I watched the news last night and I saw how the people of Syria are starving and it made me cry." At which point my eyes welled up with tears because crying comes very easy to me and I no longer worry about shedding a few tears in public.

He said with a thick accent, "No, not there. Here." And he pointed with his finger on the counter. "Right here in this city. Where we live." We looked at him and said that we were not sure what he meant.

"Is bad, very bad, we are not safe. We have to be careful who we talk to, who we know. They are coming to our homes asking questions." He told us. "Just because someone knows your cousin who knows another person who says something on Face Book or someone says something to your neighbor they come to us and ask, 'What do we know about this or that person?' Is bad we have to stop trusting each other. Is very bad." 

broken glass

What he was referring to is the recent arrest of a man suspected of terrorism in our city. He had never met this man. He does not even know how to use the internet but he sees what is happening in his community. Because I had never met him before, he and my friend told me a little about his background. He is in his 70's. He had a nice home in his mother country. He had a good job. He had what we all hope for, a nice place to live with a job to support our families. He no longer has that because he left a war zone. "I am old man and I have to start life all over again. I have a job here and a safe place to live. I want to keep it. I just want to live." I agreed with him, that is all any of us really wants. I am also an immigrant but I did not leave a war torn country so I was able to adjust easily because I was young when I moved here so I can relate a little bit to making a new life in a different place. However, I imagine for an old man it must be so much more challenging.

syrian city

"He must stop saying the things he is saying. He is making things worse for all of us." And he used his hand to make a circle that include my friends and him and the people in the store. "What he says on TV will only make trouble. Is not good for anyone. Is not the truth." My friends and I knew who he was talking about, do you? There is already evidence that one man's words are reaching around the world and coming back to us in ways that are not helpful. We told him we agreed that people need to understand each other and get to know each before we fight. Most people just want to be with their family and friends, share meals and live peacefully. The refugees want that. We want that. It's not hard to understand. As we were bringing our conversation to a close he said in his broken English: "I am trusting you. You are trusting me. That is not bad thing." I said, "No, it is not." I shook his hand and wished him luck and hoped he would find a good life here.

Now at the close of this, I ask for him, for myself, for us, for people I don't even know that you find a place in your heart to recognize refugees as human first. I hope that we can make the choice to not let fear rule our mind. I wish that you and I will make sure we know that our words are true and helpful before we speak them or share them. War and violence are like a car accident they affect our lives and change things irreparably. The majorities of Americans have never lived through war and for that we are fortunate it is something we should strive to avoid. We can do that through understanding and listening.

Please also take a minute to read my fellow author, Jose Rosa's, article about his personal encounter experience. I think you will find it as compassionate and compelling a story about understanding and shared experience as my experience.

 

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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