Do you ever stop to wonder just how many things in your life you take for granted? While you're complaining about your day & how unfair it is that your barista forgot to add chocolate shavings to your fancy $5 coffee, did you remember to be grateful for the fact that you could read the menu? I'll bet you a $5 cup of coffee that you didn't even think twice about that! Maybe after this post you'll start looking at the world a little differently, & stop complaining about your luxuries so much.
I picked up a gentleman at the airport tonight, welcoming him to his first day in the United States. He, like so many other refugees, speaks only a handful of English words. All I can say is, it's amazing how much you can communicate with hand gestures. On the drive to his new home, I wondered if he was scared. I know I would be if i just came to a brand new country & didn't know a single thing. I wondered what made him leave (although, knowing his country of origin I have a fairly good idea of what he fled from) & if he was leaving anyone behind. He is....one of his few English words is "parents". I had a lot of trouble with the fact that he would be spending his first night in a strange country completely alone in an empty room. Turns out, he has a roommate, & although my next concern was that they couldn't communicate they soon found that they each speak just enough of another language to be able to have some conversation. For some reason this made me feel better.
Being a refugee in a new land must be one of the scariest experiences ever. Imagine not only having endured something horrific but being in a completely new place, unable to understand or read the language, with no friends, no family, and a suitcase full of stuff. And nothing else.
The resiliency of all of the people I have met never ceases to amaze me. Some of them speak 3 languages but can't read at all because they had to focus on safety instead of education. Some of them have Master's degrees but can't find work here. Some of them work jobs that your average American wouldn't dare consider, & they do it with pride because they are working. All of them - regardless of where they came from - have left a situation so horrible that virtually nobody in this country will ever have anything to compare it to. It's the same story over & over again: war, genocide, death, rape, famine, fear. Over & over again, every single day. And they persevere. I am constantly humbled by this work that I'm fortunate enough to do.
Anyway, back to tonight. As this gentleman was being shown his new home, everything from how to use the restroom to how to use a blanket to lessons about keeping the doors locked for safety, I suddenly realized that ... there really was nothing. A mattress, some toiletries, a small couch, a kitchen table....just the bare basics. No tv, no books, no artwork, nothing. And my heart sank. Here was this man who has all of his worldly possessions in one small bag and now he gets to reside in an empty home in a strange land. In an instant I thought about what some of these people could do all day....& basically they'd stare at the walls. Some clients practice writing or reading or speaking their English all day long in hopes of learning enough to get a job soon, but how do you do that without any books or tv or connection to anyone?
Very quickly & very shamefully I realized that I have a small tv that sits unused in my house, waiting to hopefully be sold for $20 or so on craigslist or at a garage sale. But it could go to so much more use being given away to someone who could use it as a means to start learning English. So guess what's going over there tomorrow, along with a whole bunch of other stuff I don't need.
There's this thing about the word "need". People throw it around like crazy. Define "need". The closets full of new clothes or racks of shoes? Not an actual need. The piles of toys? Not a need. Shelves of dvds or cds? Nope. Highlighted hair & tipped nails? Not a need either. Food, shelter, education, safety - those are needs. Everything else is a bonus. We live in such an obliviously gluttonous society, & if you take just a moment to look at the reality of others it would make you rethink everything. Maybe even what this constant overspending is teaching our children - that self indulgent materialism is better than compassion & social justice.
Here's an exercise, if you've read this far, please do it. Or at least think about it:
Gather up everything you love. Then put everything you would "absolutely need" to have & pack it in a suitcase. Just one suitcase, standard checked baggage size. Now look around at EVERYTHING ELSE YOU HAVE. Do you need all of that? See if you can find it in your heart to fill up just 2 trash bags full of some of that extra "stuff" & give it to someone who literally has nothing. If there's a refugee relocation service in your area, give it to them. If not, give it to a homeless shelter. But really truly think about how much stuff you have that you don't "need"....honestly, you probably won't miss those 2 trash bags full at all. Not one bit. But it could mean so much to someone who literally has nothing.
The next time you order that $5 half caff 3 splenda sugar free carmel coffee.....stop for just a second to be grateful for the fact that instead of scrambling away from gunfire or hiding from murderers and rapists, you were in school as a child. Realize that just by virtue of the fact that you're standing in that coffee shop reading the menu with money to spend on a $5 cup of coffee, that you are blessed more than many people in this world are. If your biggest complaint is that the hairdresser got your shade of blonde wrong or the driver in front of you is too slow, then be thankful. Such a tiny shift in perception can have such a large impact.