I was very young; he was older and by my account, infinitely richer than me. We had very different lives, and now I was to meet up with him to talk informally about my role at work. I was nervous. What would we have to talk about? Would I make a fool of myself? How would I relate to his life, so seemingly flush with cash, while I shared accommodation with six others, living on pocket money?
We met, we talked, we drank wine. He talked about his kids, and his hopes and exasperations. He talked about his relationships, about work and rest, about wanting to make a difference in London and how to do that. He talked, just as all the adults I’d grown up with talked, about life and relationships and work and purpose. Of course I could relate; he was just another human.
I learned an important lesson that day: what unites us as humans is so much greater than that which divides us.
I thought back to that encounter last week. I was telling a friend that I didn’t know how to interact with some of my neighbours, whose hijabs and burkas left me feeling immodest and whose tight knit circles of mums and kids made me feel like an outsider. “What would we have to talk about?” I wondered again. She chided me, and reminded me again of what I already knew: “They’re probably talking about what to cook that night, and how to make ends meet, just like you. More to the point, they probably care about their hopes and exasperations with their families and friends, their marriages, their faith, their sense of meaning in this world…”
Of course. Of course. What unites us as humans is so much greater than that which divides.
I got an email while we lived in Era from a close British friend of mine. She mused for a while on relationships before commenting on her middle class Western perspective. I giggled when I read that, because she couldn’t have been more wrong. Many of my friends in Era could have written the core questions at the heart of that email, although they would have come out surrounded by different cultural assumptions. “Will I marry?” friends wonder to me, both here and there, “and if so who will it be?” “My kid is growing up so quickly,” friends from both places remark, “I never know where she is anymore…” My friends from Era thought my friends in Britain must be very different from them, and my British friends return the sentiment, but the most striking thing to me was this: what unites as humans is so much greater than that which divides.
I can’t stop reading the heartbreaking stories from Calais, Budapest, Bodrum… and I’m struck through the tears by the tiny glimpses of people just like me. One young PhD student gets a sentence of his story told, and I wonder what the tale behind the tale is. What’s the rest of this colleague’s story? What is he like? Has he met the love of his life? Is he a tease? Would he jam with Aaron to similar styles of music? A Syrian lawyer-turned-refugee becomes another number in an ever growing category that we’re learning, to our shame, to refer to by flippant labels. I wonder who his friends and family are. Does he have children, and what is he like as a dad? I wonder how much we would have in common if we could meet, and if we would be friends.
Mr Kurdi, the striken widower and dad who lost his family this week is quoted as saying “My children were the most beautiful children in the world. Is there anybody in the world for whom their child is not the most precious thing?” That picture, those words, remind us of all that unites those of us currently living in safety with the people at the raw end of this crisis.
Wealth, religion, culture, nationhood, privilege – these are all things that we use to divide, to stereotype and to label, but today, I want to remember that I’m just another human. Today I am meditating on the fact that though there are enormous differences in our stories, our sufferings, our privileges and our paths, what unites us as humans remains so much greater than that which divides.
Featured Image by Pixabay user geralt