I felt a playful tapping at my waist as I stood in line at McDonalds. I turned, no one there, but on my other side, giggles. It was an impish, gleaming Sam, one of our boys from the Center. “What are you doing here Sam? Are you getting a burger?” “No, I just get water.” “Are you hungry?”
As we sat eating our burgers, Sam became serious and asked if I had ever shot a gun. “No, not really, BB and pellet guns when I was a kid.” With a bit of an awkward urgency, he looked at me, and said, “I was shot. When I was four years old, I was shot.” He pulled up his pant leg, “See, here’s my scar.” He told of that moment, the growing pain, and the blood, the eventual doctor, and his mother’s care.“Who shot you?” “Some gangster. My family was in danger.” “Is that why you left Tanzania?” “Yes.”
Later that same day we took the kids from our after-school program to the local community pool. There had been a week of joyful anticipation and the hour and a half did not disappoint as gleeful faces swirled through the whirl pool, the mega-slide, and lap pool. When it was time to go,herding our kids out of the water was not unlike my recent attempt to bring my Samoyed indoors with the first big winter snow. Playfulness continued into the locker room,and after all the boys were nearly dressed, Sele stood apart, unnerved. He was missing one tennis shoe. We searched every nook of the locker room and the checked the lost and found, but no success. Sam left without a shoe. When I drove him to his family’s apartment,the usually gregarious and friendly Sam was silent and somber, his countenance too heavy than of a child from a secure environment who loses a shoe. I imagined he was anticipating some difficult encounter as he walked through the front door with one bare foot.
On this day, an 11 year old boy presents an instance which is the face and circumstance of many,the stories and struggles of our refugee and immigrant communities, the experience of leaving homes and cultures because of situations of violence, then to struggle to survive and thrive in a foreign culture. At a minimum, I can listen, empathize, walk with, and replace tennis shoes, and that is a genuine start and path. But more is involved here. There is a summoning, a purpose, a direction of life, for life, for all of us.
The following day, with the preceding day pressing, I approached Walid, an Iraqi refugee who is a navigator at the Center and works full time as a resource and general helper to refugees. I asked him how he is able to cope with all of the stories and pain he encounters. His gaze quickly turned introspective and he said calmly and confidently, “It is difficult, and I sometimes feel helpless, but when I open myself to other people’s pain, I find the strength of God.”
Walid’s affirmation rings true to the human experience and is the experience and promotion of the major faith traditions. We find God, we find the life of our life, in the space where we open ourselves to the other in a shared vulnerability. My Muslim brother, you express a truth which says that everyone is my brother and sister, and when I open myself in vulnerability to be with the other, especially in arenas where human dignity is diminished, I find a strength, a depth, and a bubbling up of new of life. Thank you for reminding.
The Center holds.
Rev. Marcel Narucki
Village Exchange Center