Receiving a Gift, Jan. 21/16
It all started with small brown paper gift bags. Plain, recycled, planet friendly, millennium trendy, brown paper gift bags. You know the one’s I’m talking about. And these little bags were packed lovingly, by plain, recycled, planet friendly, millennium trendy individuals. Regular people like you and me.
But on this day, the receivers of these gifts were not responding how I imagined they would. My first thought was perhaps they had never seen trendy brown bags before. This was possible, and highly probable given their circumstances. I watched and observed while the 75 bags were handed out one by one. Some were smiling, some appeared bashful, others kept their heads down, and one little boy buried his face into someone I could only assume would be his father, who was wearing a very colourful thick fabric coat. Draped with that fabric, was the man that hooked my eyes.
Saying 'I Accept You'
I will never know his name, and I’m unsure now of its importance, but I will never forget his eyes. They were blackish brown, deeply set, sadly beautiful, and they did not move. He sat composed in his stiff plastic chair and stared at me. Never blinking, his shift never wavering. And it was oddly haunting. Yet strangely, an unspoken understanding passed between us in that short moment. Telepathically perhaps; I could feel his weary sense of relief and extreme gratitude as he looked me. I was about to say a few words to the strangers in this room, so in keeping with a public speaking rule, ‘you should pick one person to direct your message to’, I looked straight back at him and said, “Welcome to Canada, I Accept You.”
A Moment with the Refugees
These are the Syrian refugees. Fresh off a plane landing into Vancouver BC. Whisked through immigration and plunked into the ‘Welcome’ House at the Immigrant Services Society’s arms.
Luckily for me, I was granted entry to meet these fragile people. I came with my expectations and my mother earth gift bags, but what I experienced was absolutely not what I expected.
What impacted me most was how calm the room was. I imagined slight hysteria and a lot of tears and commotion. But what I saw was extraordinary people, waiting for extra-ordinary instructions. All of this was happening at lightning speed, as there is a ‘no exploitation’ rule in effect, and my time with these guests was extremely limited. Fair enough!!
But within those fleeting minutes I took stock in the room, and the whole time I was present, I could feel those eyes fixated on me. Those eyes that spoke nothing, but whispered everything. Collectively, echoing all around this refugee greeting room, was the universal language of thank you, grace and hope.
Acceptance Over Gift Bags
It was at that moment that I received my gift. It came unpackaged, not trendy, no swanky gift card attached. Instead, it was a clear, unshakable understanding of our shared humanity.
The concrete affirmation that we are all deserving of love and belonging, no matter who we are, how we look, whom we love, or what we believe.
The brown gift bags sat beside their chairs, unnoticed. In my ignorance and innocence, I thought that gifts would be some sort of a welcome offering, like this insignificant bag would ease the loss and suffering they have endured.
But instead I learned, that the greatest gift of all was much simpler. I accepted them.
With gratitude to the Immigration Services Society,