Yesterday, we stood beneath one of the archways, basking in the rays of the sunshine. It was bitterly cold but bearable in the heat from the sun. It has been very quiet at the center these past few weeks with not many people outside. I imagine it is due to the cold, but we continue to stand outside with our markers, paper, and ukulele at the ready. With so few people on staff, we would get lost in a room hidden out of the way, so we wait outside for passersby to share a word or phrase, maybe even a melody.
We will share the company of the pigeons, Sarah said. I have also been waxing poetic about pigeons these past few weeks. For me, pigeons represent the darker side of survival, which many people who do not have to worry where their next meal will come from seem to prefer to pretend does not exist.
We often speak of whether or not any one would notice if we did not come to the center each week. Would anyone miss us? Everyone is so busy with survival in a foreign land. Is anyone really interested in what we are doing?
Even a familiar face might be uplifting for a person who has left behind the familiarity of home.
We are the paper we hang on the wall, I said.
We are like a blank page, waiting for something to happen, Sarah responded.
Yes, and if we don’t come, then nothing can happen.
To me, this seems to be a metaphor for the many thousands of people around the world who leave their home in search of a better life.
Every day I read the news and feel a deepening sadness for the state of the world and the needless suffering of its people. In the wake of such terror, I continue to go to the refugee center each week. It is a small gesture, but perfects akin to the butterfly effect. We may never know how the world can be changed by our small gestures of kindness, but I firmly believe that empathy, love, kindness, and beyond are the gestures that make life worth living and are part of the alternative way of being that is so desperately needed to counter the propensity for resentment, violence, revenge, entitlement, and beyond.
A few weeks ago, Sarah and I met two residents from Syria shared the story of a little girl who had been killed by bombs in Saraqib. Perhaps, healing was experienced in the sharing of this story and the creation of a melody to sing in honor of this life cut short far too soon.
The residents returned the next week, and one wrote a stanza that I found breathtaking and poignant, though I don’t know for whom he wrote the words or the true depth of meaning. I was just grateful for this person and his willingness to share something from within. The explanation can come later. Inshallah, a common phrase we hear at the center when we ask if residents might join us for poetry and songwriting. Inshallah, some people say. God willing.
I love you.
I love you with your head held high,
Like the domes of Damascus.
Like the minarets of Egypt
Like the deserts of Algeria.
He asked me to sing the words, which I did. I felt a haunting melody come forth, and we sang it together several times.
When it came to creating a refrain, the two residents taught us the Arabic words for “I love you” and “my dear.”
We repeated them over and over, struggling with the pronunciation. I learned that I would refer to my husband as Habibi (the masculine), and he would refer to be as Habibette (the feminine). Then, we sang.
Hebek, I love you, Habibi.
Hebek, I love you.
Like so many of the songs we write at the center, this one is in its nascent beginnings. I can sense there is more to come. Like so much of the individual work we do in life, I will have patience and faith the song will reveal itself in time, as it is ready.
Hebek, my dear readers.