Each Wednesday evening on the not-so-great part of town, in a crowded not-so-great apartment I meet with six women who journeyed thousands of miles each alone, to arrive in this town in Illinois where life begins again, come hell or high water, for there is no going back. Refugees from Burma, they have stories to tell I am certain, but in our slow progress in English I must wait patiently until they will be able to tell them. It is like watching a child who sees and understands something one day that was not there before, I marvel at a brain and its tenacity to absorb new things. I try to imagine what it is like to shop at a grocery store for the first time, how it must feel to live with five strangers and still find laughter reminiscent of the way my sister and I used to get the giggles in church. Possessing ten times more in bravery and flexibility than in physical things, these women seem to be living a kind of joy that many would think impossible.
The other Burmese family that lives upstairs from them, two parents and seven stunningly beautiful children who seem so filled with kinship to one another I am envious of their bonds, are also proof to me every day that things are not so bad that we cannot smile. The kids often come running downstairs and motion me to follow back up to see a drawing or just to visit since I must be amusing with my tall stature and pale skin. Those kids have little to nothing by American standards, yet are delighted by an old box of crayons I picked up at a garage sale. Perhaps they look at me with the same wonder that I have looking back at them, it begs nothing but rather is simply sweet curiosity. As I stood in their small kitchen one evening bounded by a cultural and language barrier that I was unsure how to traverse, their mother spoke strange words to me and motioned to the living room and I was at that moment aware of a profound truth; we are all simply humans, being. No matter what language she spoke, she clearly said, “well we don’t have to stand around in the kitchen, come in, sit down.” So many moments pass by unnoticed but this one struck me, and joyfully has stayed. So this is what I believe: that in being human, our essential wish would be that wherever we go, someone would offer us to come in and sit down, and in the reverse we could do the same. That there is no difference so great between us that cannot be transcended by kindness.
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