From my journal on July 11, 2016
It is 5 AM in a Belgrade hostel and I am preparing for the first of a 15 day class that will carry us through 3 countries that know the heartbreak of war. To tell you the truth, I am not sure how we are going to make it.
That is not hyperbole. That is honest.
Because war is an exhausting topic – complicated and messy and writhing in pain. Normally, it is not a topic that gets you on an airplane to fly across an ocean, but today, it is the reason that millions risk their lives to get on crowded boats to cross a sea.
And I don’t know the students that are coming, but I know the stories that are coming.
I know what it is like to sit across the table from a twenty-something father, that military-age Middle-Eastern man that all of us fear, and listen to him tell me a story that took close to 2 hours to tell. His journey took us from Damascus through Turkey through Tanzania, through Libya with smugglers and masked soldiers with kalishnakov rifles, past ISIS and the mafia and codewords and havens in a desert, and secret hotels – and all of it done for the hope that he could make a future for his family in Europe. He tells the story with details, and drawings on a paper and a solid, strong voice. Until …
…until he gets to the sea…
…and on the sea, I watch this strong man break down into tears. I watch this grown man, this military-age man, this father, this former real-estate realtor from Damascus, just break down and cry.
I have no words.
From my journal on October 20, 2016
Its 5 PM in a Belgrade park, and there must be more than 500 men and boys in line waiting for a meal. The beans smell of curry. They smell good. I wonder if we will have enough food to feed them all. They just keep coming. The line seems to have no end.
I see familiar faces. The 16-year old from Afghanistan with the, “Open Hungary’s borders” hat crafted from pink paper is here. He had that on this morning at 7 AM when we gave him a blanket. Has he worn that all day?
As the evening wears on and the sun goes down, the line is still moving but I find myself surrounded by a group of teenage boys – all of them travelling alone and mostly from Afghanistan. The conversation started with one boy, Muhammad, who engaged me mostly out of boredom. Sometimes pleasant and sometimes disturbing, our topics have floated from one point to the next, from the Taliban to Afghanistan, from the traumatic 5 months of journey he has endured, to his mother and father still in Kabul. I have seen photos of nieces, and brothers, and his home. Finally, as our conversation draws to an end, this 15 year-old boy on a man’s journey looks at me with longing and says, “Talking to you makes me miss my mother. I really miss my mother.”
I have no words.
When war takes our words – rolls them in a riptide and strangles them deep inside of our soul – we must find a way to speak of peace. We find a way to speak of peace by walking with peace. A man of peace once said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ He lived those words.
I have no other Word to respond to war but this man. Peace. He calms my stormy sea.
In our facebook posts, in our conversations about elections, in our homes. on the streets of our community, and in the hidden spaces of our minds and our hearts – may we practice peace today.