Lost Boys

In my warm, safe home one morning, I read an article in The Washington Post that wouldn’t leave me. The dark eyes of two orphaned brothers stared at me from a world away.

Shamsul (8) and Jafar (11) once had a “loving family, a little house near a river, a worn soccer ball to play with and 15 cows for fresh milk” in their small village in Burma.

When the Burmese military entered their village spraying bullets into the air, the brothers ran to hide. They watched as soldiers beat their mother and three siblings, lock them into their home, and burn them alive. More soldiers shot their father. The United Nations has likened the Burmese military actions to genocide—targeting minority Rohingya Muslims.

Shamsul and Jafar fled the only home they knew, following a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims into India. The boys tried to stay together during the long journey. Along the way, Jafar got separated from his younger brother.  Then he saw Shamsul, who couldn’t swim, crossing a fast-moving river in an old dinghy with others. Afraid he would lose him, Shamsul dove in and swam as fast as he could, keeping his brother’s head in sight. He made it across the river and found his brother. Other, stronger swimmers drowned.

The boys’ luck—or as others called it, blessings from Allah—continued when they were reunited with their uncle and his family who managed to escape as well. They live together, with very little, in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. The uncle says a good day is when no children cry themselves to sleep at night.

Maybe it was the boys’ eyes. My own children have dark eyes. I couldn’t stop thinking about them.

The boys need warm coats. Their uncle, aunt, and their six children also need coats, food, and warm blankets. If you’d like to contribute—even a small amount—to this family, 100% of the money raised will go to supplies that will be delivered to family. Wouldn’t it be great to give the boys a new soccer ball as well?

I must thank Allison Joyce, the photo journalist who worked on the Post’s story, for agreeing to help me with this. With the money that we raise, she will buy and deliver the supplies to the family. Her work is incredible; please check out her website.

Thank you also to New Deli Bureau Chief Annie Gowen and The Washington Post for bringing the story of Shamsul and Jafar to our doorsteps here in the States.

To help Shamsul, Jafar, and their family, click here. And thank you!

The Kindness of Strangers

Happy New Year! It’s been a while since the last post. I think end-of-year relaxation and reflection got the best of us. But isn’t that what’s wonderful about the end of the year?

In January, we’re going to switch up our posts from subjects about introspective self-kindness to outward kindness toward others.

I live in the Avenues, which if you’re not from Utah, is the oldest neighborhood in Salt Lake City. Mature trees line the streets — sycamore, oak, maple, chestnut, and other ornamentals. Planted in the mid to late 1800s by Utah’s settlers, most aren’t native to my desert mountain state.

In my neighborhood, all walks of life mingle — college students who attend the University of Utah and share run-down houses, young couples in apartment buildings, professional couples in modern homes built on old lots, wealthy families who’ve restored grand homes from the early 1900s, and regular folks who live in smaller, historical homes. Single, married or divorced, gay, straight — of varied religions, race, and ethnicity.

The Avenues seem to invite diversity, activism, and most of all expression. You’ll often see signs in people’s yards. The other day while walking my schnoodle, George, I saw this sign:

Avenues Sign

And so I took a picture. Because kindness is everything. And I’m glad to live in a place where my neighbors welcome everyone who might pass by.

Two Kings

In the retelling of the story of Christmas, a detail is often left out.

Mary and Joseph lived under a government led by a tyrannical king, a leader who felt easily threatened and would do nearly anything to preserve his power. King Herod, as all royalty believed, was chosen by God to have dominion over his land and the people who lived there. He ruled with a heavy hand and on the backs of laborers, built opulent palaces that shimmered with gold. He took great comfort in the heavy, intricately carved metal of his throne.

Imagine Herod’s surprise when scholars from the East arrived to visit him, bursting with news of an astronomical anomaly—a new star in the eastern sky. And under that star, the prophesy promised, a spiritual king would be born. “Where is he?” the great men asked. “We’ve traveled far, in the coldest days of winter, to bow before him.”

King Herod knew nothing of the star; he hardly paid attention to the sky. He bristled at the thought of the scholars and his own people bowing before a baby. He summoned his advisors, who identified the birthplace as Bethlehem. Sending the wise men out again on their journey, the king asked that they bring back the exact location of the child.

The king’s court buzzed loudly with the news the next day, but he could hear no more. “I am the chosen one!” he yelled to anyone who would listen, pointing to large maps of his kingdom to calm himself. The palace shook with his rage. Finally, to preserve his position as the only monarch of the land, King Herod ordered his soldiers to the town of Bethlehem to slaughter every child under the age of two.

He unleashed unspeakable violence so close to Jesus’ birth.

But the wise men arrived while the palace slept, led by the quiet light of the star. They found the small family wrapped in blankets, nestled together for warmth by a fire. Imagine Mary and Joseph’s expressions in hearing of the men’s journey by starlight. Imagine the relief they might have felt by their arrival—a confirmation of their highest hopes. The wise men knelt before them, offering gifts that they would need in the days ahead.

At Christmas, the story of Jesus’ birth often ends with the peaceful image of a manger under starlight. We are not listening for the hooves of Herod’s soldiers, on a mission to destroy the most vulnerable.

Mary, Joseph, and the wise men however were listening when their dreams once again spoke to them. Surely tired, hungry, and ill-prepared for another journey, the family fled to Egypt and the wise men returned home on a different route to the East.

As I read this story today, I’m struck by hope’s narrow escape. Christ was not born in peaceful times. He was born in the midst of hardship to human parents who relied on the kindness of strangers, the strength of their own hands, and the power of prayers. He required protection. How can we protect hope during our own times of difficulty? Because like the story, our hope will be called eventually out of exile, to stand up for the vulnerable and to preserve what we hold dear.