Once a refugee, you never stop feeling like one. Deep down the fear of losing your home, belongings, and worse, loved ones, feels real. It threatens your existence as a human being. It threatens to break your cherished family apart and destroy your basic sense of safety.
During my younger years, my family frequently found itself on the run from terrorists, self-declared liberators and war mongers. With every new outbreak of war in Lebanon, we packed our bags in the little time we had, and fled. North, south, east, by sea, by air— we tried all paths available. We traveled near and far. Time, money and availability of shelter decided our destinations. Sometimes we left precious things behind that we then lost forever. Sometimes we left people behind that we then lost forever. After every exodus, we lost parts of ourselves that we never got back.
Losing your home rips you to shreds. You spend long years afterwards searching for lost pieces of your life's once complete puzzle. What you recover doesn't always fit together, or has been chewed up and mangled by forces beyond your control. So you learn to live incompletely, and you aspire to forming a different picture to become the backdrop of your continued existence.
As a refugee, you experience loneliness and alienation. The harshness of your situation forever changes you and alters your worldview. The temporary shelter, whether it’s a different country or village, never replaces your home. But what stops you from falling off the human cliff and abandoning humanity and its values, and what keeps your heart warm in the vast coldness that is displacement, is often an act of kindness.
In every stop as a refugee, I experienced acts of kindness by distant relatives and sometimes complete strangers. Some were inhabitants of different nations who opened their homes or simply showed me compassion. Some were dwellers of different cultures and religions who did not fear diversity. To me, they demonstrated that the borders that separate us human beings are artificial, and that at the end of the day, we are all the same. Raised under the same conditions, we might still vary, not by virtue of where we were born, but because of the genes that make us members of the same human family. We all have the same potential and the ability to make choices. And one choice we can make is to show kindness to others.
Showing kindness towards refugees is not synonymous with giving up or sharing your home. It does not imply that you should sacrifice your security for someone else's. It is not an invitation to the destruction of your national values, whatever they may be. It is an acknowledgement of your humanity, of the belief that all humans are born equal, and that all have the right to a dignified life. Centuries of scientific and cultural advancement have given us tools to become better towards one another, and better understand what it means to be human.
Kindness does not have to be material. You can be kind in your heart and still choose to do nothing. No one is asking you to give up your job or your home. But refugees are asking for a compassionate stance, a recognition of their potential as human beings who have had the misfortune of being born in places where basic rights are luxuries.
I have seen plenty of wars to last me several lifetimes. But I have also seen kindness by people from various countries, cultures and religions. This kindness kept my hope for a better tomorrow alive. This hope fed my belief that that one day I will find the opportunity to give the best of me, and that I will rise after so many falls.
I am now in my 40s, happily settled with a family of my own in a quiet and peaceful suburb, full of life and potential for my children to grow up kind and enlightened human beings. I have found and assembled a new puzzle. Along the way, I made difficult choices. I had to make sacrifices and accept new realities. I had to adapt in order to survive and realize my potential. I love my adopted nation more than I loved my birth country, and I am not ashamed to admit it. Had people here closed doors in my face because of my national origin or religion, I would not be here today.
The same fear continues to lurk inside. For that, I take nothing for granted, and unlike some, I do not feel entitled. Because I experienced loss, I am a better fighter than many. I didn't need to have been born here to understand the values that made this nation. I breathe them and appreciate them every day of the week, every hour of the day. And I am confident that many other refugees, if given the opportunity, will be the good citizens every nation needs.
Watching hundreds of thousands fleeing butchers and zealots looks all too familiar. My heart breaks when someone, instead of offering compassion, chooses to blame them for an imagined horror that can only befall if, like the people who ejected them, we act inhumanely. It is too late for the child who washed up on the shore. But it is not too late for the kid who made it alive, full of potential to adapt and evolve into an antidote to the bigotry and fundamentalism he fled. Leaving them to fester in pain and resentment is a much bigger threat not only to our national security, but to our humanity.