We had recently settled my daughter into her new life at college. When she returned for the holidays, we had a new place for her. But it wasn’t her old bed.
My daughter first climbed into that bed when she was five years old. I learned this Iraqi woman’s daughter is five now. The bed would be a surprise for her when she arrived home from kindergarten later that day.
The irony of that connection struck me. My daughter holds fond memories of that bed. For she had turned her room into a castle, a place of refuge, a place of discovery, of creativity, of hope. That bed cradled memories. But it was time for it to become someone else’s dream spot.
As I looked into the eyes of this Iraqi woman, Mona, I knew that her story ran deep. She had been in the U.S. for only several months. In the few moments we had together, I tried to learn a bit about her story. I became aware that this simple exchange of a material item connected us somehow.
In such connecting, I recalled the value of reaching out, of caring for others from different background, witnesses to events that fill our news every day.
I wondered, “Why did this particular connection happen?” and “Why do I care?” Here are some of my reasons why, and an argument for why you should care about other cultures. Here are four reasons:
1) Your genuine interest in them makes them better.
When someone from another land experiences a sincere embrace of welcome, they grow in their own self-respect. Giving them your time and attention, even in small ways, dignifies them. It communicates that they matter. Every person on this planet longs to know they matter.
Regardless of where they’re from or what they’ve been through, visitors and immigrants (legal and illegal) to our country are human beings, just like you and me. They love, they struggle, they hurt, they strive, they hope, they dream. On most levels, they are more like us than different.
2) You become better.
Authentic care expressed to someone who is new in our country, in ways large and small, expands our hearts and minds in the process. It is a sure-fire way to practice the art of connecting.
A strange thing happens when we give. We discover we gain in the process. We may not have money to give, but we have time, resources, knowledge and practical know-how. We understand how stuff works in our own country. We can share that with newly arrived visitors.
Offering hospitality, help, time, knowledge, skills and opportunities for connecting to those who are in a new place is an investment that awards high returns. As we invest our lives in others – even in the smallest ways – we discover an almost magical outcome: we get more to invest!
This reminds me of the words of Jesus in the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:26): “To everyone who has, more will be given…” That story used to perplex me. But as I’ve lived that out over many years, I’ve come to understand its meaning. We gain when we give.
3) Our world becomes better.
Recently we commemorated another anniversary of the 9-11 Terrorist Attacks. On that day, I had a group of 30+ women from 12 nations gathered in my home for a luncheon.
As we opened up the time, we acknowledged that we were gathering on a significant day for Americans and, indeed, for the world.
Then the moment. “What we are doing here – gathering for friendship, peace and better understanding – is a statement against all that happened on 9-11 many years ago. It is the good of cultures coming together, sharing and growing, that we hold up against the evil that seeks to create division and death.”
We joined in a beautiful prayer and then enjoyed our potluck meal and the fun program ahead. It was a small moment in the grand scheme of life, but it moved the “peace” meter up a notch.
4) The future becomes brighter.
Our hope is in the five-year-old Iraqi immigrant girl and the 18 year-old college freshman. What will the future be like for the children (and young adults) if we don’t sow seeds of understanding, connection and love now?
Many lament the deteriorating conditions in this world. Indeed, as I write this, Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi and other refugees are flooding into Europe. It’s a chaotic mess, with no clear end in sight. And the situation is escalating as Russia and the U.S. drive stakes in the ground as they deal with the mercurial Assad regime in Syria.
It’s easy to focus on all that’s wrong. But when we do what we can to make things right, to deepen understanding, to contribute toward peace and that better future, to stretch ourselves in connecting, we are making a difference. We may not be able to solve the global problem, but we can make an impact for good on the future through our actions now right where we are.
Getting back to Mona.
What connected us? Was it really just a bed?
We both hold out hope for our daughters. Hers is a hope born by a journey over thousands of miles, many perilous. Mine is a hope that my daughter, with newfound freedom to fly on her own, will reach higher heights but not forget her roots.
Many might consider this small exchange negligible in importance. But I could see how our lives overlapped, intertwined for a reason. I offered her hope, and assurance that she, indeed, mattered as I took an interest in her story.
In the end, a bridge was built, not a wall.
(She even sent me the picture of the bed, decked out with Disney’s Inside Out bedding, waiting to greet her five-year-daughter after school. Sweet!)
A new beginning for two young women, separated by 13 years, differing cultures and backgrounds, connected by common dreams, hopes and a future open to discovery.
Have you had a similar experience? How are you connecting with those outside your cultural group? Share with us in the comments!