Refugees at the Front Door

I am quite aware that I have lived a very privileged existence. I am American. I am middle class. I am white. I am educated. I am a woman from a country where equality is still a vast struggle but in no manner reflective to other areas of the world I have seen.

Above all, I am, what I define as, a borderless humanist.

As a golden rule, I always look for ways to be kind during my travels – always searching for ways to help others as I go about my daily routine wherever I may be. I am a bit selfish in that I enjoy, if only for a moment, the connection it brings me with another human whose story is most likely so varied from my own.

For years, I’ve been reminded of the day, when I was in quite a state of sadness myself, I met an old man on the train from San Francisco to Oakland. I had noticed his sniffling and small tears and asked if he was ok. He divulged he was suffering from back pain and his meds were not working that day. I offered what I could. I gave him one of my ear buds, we listened to “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure for the remainder of the train ride and he laughed and waved as I exited the train.

This morning, as I left my flat to take a coffee, I noticed a young man laying under the shade of a car, leaning against the pole in front of my gate. Weezer sniffed cautiously around him as I called for him to follow me. The boy had to be perhaps 15, maybe 16. His face was slightly dirty, his clothes looked to have been worn for days, possibly weeks. I continued along my way down to the piazza. As I returned, I noticed tears streaming down his face as he attempted to conceal them, mixing with the dust that had settled over the days. As I went to unlock my gate, I couldn’t help but turn around and asked him if he was ok. He looked up at me, tears welling behind crystal eyes, a face ridden with complete sorrow. He was so young and so alone.

I walked over and knelt down beside him, asking if he spoke any English. He said yes and I asked what was wrong and what I could do to help. He said he was trying to get down to Sicily where his family was supposed to meet him. I suddenly became acutely aware who this teenager was and who he was supposed to be meeting. Most likely, a family that would never arrive. He mumbled through the rest of his story, how his brother was supposed to meet him in the North, how he never shown up, that he had seen an English newspaper on the train and he feared his family didn’t make it to Southern Italy. He had come into Italy days earlier through the North and had gotten as far as Rome but had no money and didn’t speak the language. “They said this was safer.” My heart broke.

I asked him how much he needed for the ticket to Sicily and his response was so incredibly heartbreaking. “I don’t want your money. I want my family.” I told him I could only help him get to them by giving him the money for the ticket so he could meet them. I pressed a bit more and he finally told me the ticket was €82. I gave him all the money in my wallet so he could travel and eat for the next few days.

He was slow to accept it. He stared for at it for a moment in his hand, hanging his head lower and cried a bit more. I rested my hand upon his arm for a minute while he gathered his composure and he said a simple, “Thank you. I am just scared.” I responded, “Everything is going to be ok” and forced myself to believe it.

Humanity and kindness is so incredibly powerful but yet we waste all of our time trying to fight it.

This encounter made me acutely aware that only two days prior, I happily sat on the train on my way to explore a new city, staying in a beautiful hotel, eating lovely things. What different journeys we have in life.

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