KOS, Greece, Sept. 18, 2015 – I love the time I spend in Greece running aid to the refugees waiting on Kos.
On the other side of this treacherous sea is the now notorious resting place of young refugee Aylan, in Bodrum, Turkey. It is full of exhausted philanthropists and terrified, stressed refugees. Every night that I am in Turkey and see a family or couple that my heart has adopted, my affection competes with my fear for them.
What nightmare awaits them in the deep and hungry sea? What trafficker waits to abuse and exploit them? What furious local steps past their sleeping mats to scream vitriol at them?
But Greece, an economically destroyed nation, is their promised land. I am overjoyed to see my friends that had set off the coast again, safe and done with another leg of this awful journey. I relax, they smile.
Everyone here is poor and with few physical belongings, yet what love, what compassion! Life put at risk before the sea in Turkey is life restored here in Greece. What goods, clothes, shoes, food I can bring disappears quickly. But there is an absence of the desperation that overhangs those still in Turkey.
I realized this morning that I have only seen two grumpy locals vent their frustration on refugees here. Two out of hundreds that I have met. I am stunned and delighted.
I carry two knives on me at all times, a necessity in some places. This morning, as I distributed the day’s supplies of goods among the beach based refugees here, I realized that I’ve only used them to break the zipties and plastic ties connecting pairs of the brand new shoes donated by so many selfless and usually anonymous donors.
I post pictures as much as I can, always with permission, of those taking this tough journey. I would like the world to see the peril of this time juxtaposed against the constant joy and gratitude of these survivors. I feel lucky and realize again that I am fortunate, for many reasons, but primarily because for the many who give money and time to help, I am the lucky one who gets to recharge my effort with the unbroken wall of gratitude coming from those who receive the bounty.
Yes, when I arrive in Greece, I am mobbed for my goods that I am running, because my face is too known to ever again be just another faceless figure of disinterest. That is the highest compliment of character I have ever received. Knowing the great need and absence of necessities, I grab a few of the refugees, men and women, to help me. Far better than I ever could, they help me keep track of the goods I’ve brought and their distribution. They help me keep track of who has received shoes, food, a bag, and who has not. They have even hauled off a few who would have taken my own bag that holds my wallet and passport.
This help from refugees is the final point I want to emphasize.
No one wants to be a refugee. No one wishes for this identity because the difficulty and shame of this label far outweighs its inherent legal rights. The humiliations and degradations suffered because of this identity is scarring, and there is already too much these brave souls must withstand.
So, my friends in Europe, Turkey, everywhere else: show your humanity when you cross paths with a refugee. Know that they see your instinctive coiling back and know this is an ugly thing to do toward one who has survived so much. They will help you and your environment with barely a request — just show your humanity. These times are tough and trying, and we must be tough as well and durable in compassion.
Perhaps there are no better concluding words than those of Henry David Thoreau: “My life has been the poem I would have writ / but I could not both live and utter it.”