fruits of the spirit of peace

Pivot
 

On Black Friday of all days

when previous years have involved shopping at 4am

bickering cousins

and news stories about people getting trampled outside Walmart

 

I took refuge in a family of Syrian refugees

 

the air was frigid

the Irish sea within a stone’s throw

with seagulls gliding above, screeching

Shit! It got cold! Keep circling, feckers!

 

a crumpled paper was my guide

the security guard had drawn a simple map

count the buildings, find the red door numbered 77

so I started to walk

acutely aware of how much money I wore on my back

waterproof shoes

the hiking pack

layers of sturdy fabric

 

the air was cold

but thick and soupy

something about the atmosphere held much more weight

but it wasn’t pain or the burden of being displaced or the shadows of war

it was joy

 

black, brown, and chilly pink faces magnetically turned as I approached

each one split with a curious, excited smile

ready to practice

“Hello! I am six!”

 

right up to a room labeled “store” with big empty shelves and a few cans of tomatoes

until a man on a bicycle approached

confidently proclaiming that he did not speak English

but to follow him because food

 

follow him I did

speaking slowly and clearly about how I was excited to welcome his family to Ireland

and how I came here from the United States

but it was a very long walk

and what the hell do I know about this country

if you want to see a dishwasher loaded in record speeds, sure, hit up a volunteer

but what do I have to say about welcome?

so we fell into a comfortable, anticipatory silence

 

the children were still in school

except for the youngest two

who, knowing how this day unfolds, were hilariously tame at the start

 

I saw my friends in the window upstairs and waved

we had come to share toys, kitchen utensils, and time

and this family

this beautiful family

this beautiful, massive, generous family

this massive, chaotic, giving, rowdy, kind, family

 

had pushed two tables together to present a lavish feast

we sat in a ring and used our hands to grab grape leaves, fresh mint, vegetables overflowing with rice

recipes that had traveled for years

stored for safekeeping in inter-generational taste buds

 

and because we were navigating the conversation in English

details were revealed slowly

sometimes without the expected emotions attached

like when a question was raised about the health of the children

      there are 6 with one more on the way

and the mother shared that her son was born premature with holes in his heart but everything looks normal now so he should be alright

and I clutched the pill case in my pocket, sweat condensing and throat running dry

 

meals are often uneventful

you chew, swallow, smile and say thanks

but in doing so, something cracks open

a trust that no one intends violence

time to look one another in the eye within the safety of activity

 

I don’t know how much time passed

because I’m getting used to saying here I am for the day let’s do some stuff then go to sleep

but eventually we put on our raincoats and walked to retrieve the toys and kitchen utensils

 

the young boy insisted on coming

and proceeded to fall off his bike innumerable times

I followed the mother’s lead and didn’t run to help

until a particularly nasty spill when a shriek of fear snuck out

and I dashed over

 

the axle was bent

and the handlebars were tilty to one side

making the bike nearly impossible to balance

I was stunned silent

 

here he was

a tiny energizer bunny

persisting with a vehicle that refused to accommodate him

(you’re so strong) I thought

we rolled along

chattering in different languages

because he wanted to be heard

and I knew I couldn’t understand

 

it was a camp

but also a village

 

the sun was splitting the trees

and we walked in the middle of the street without fear

as you would after a heavy snowfall

 

when we reached the red door once again

it flung open

revealing young, bouncy girls

vibrating with glee

the ice cubes attached to my wrists were immediately grabbed

and pulled into their space

 

we later laughed about how I assumed that the family knew my friend

they must’ve

because what ensued…

WAS LOUD AND FAST AND FUN AND MULTILINGUAL BECAUSE FAMILY MEMBERS WERE SKYPING IN FROM SYRIA AND I KEPT SAYING “NICE TO MEET YOU” AND IT WAS TRANSLATED TO SO MANY PEOPLE AND I NEVER THOUGHT OF ANOTHER THING TO SAY BECAUSE IN THE MEANTIME

the smallest boy had pants that preferred the floor over his lil brown booty

so every time his arms reached up to, you know, reach or grab or play

we were mooned and reminded not to take anything too seriously

thank God for those pants, seriously

 

I surrendered each part of me to being held and tugged and poked and squeezed and braided

yelling storybooks in funny voices over the clatter

of chaotic squeals

keeping balloons aloft and counting

24, 25, 29, 27…

hand-slapping games with every playground song I could remember

new songs in French

which, by the way, we learned in 2 minutes but that wasn’t FAST ENOUGH

HOW DO YOU SAY THIS IN YOUR LANGUAGE

In English?

ENGLISH IS YOUR LANGUAGE?!

 

Eat eat eat! from the mother

who never imagined her life as a mother

and who gets very sick from pregnancy and would like a minute to herself

which she confided as two children climbed her limbs like jungle gym equipment

 

Squeals about newfound pastimes

squeals during musical chairs

squeals because WE’RE GOING UPSTAIRS

NO YOU STAY DOWN HERE

DING DONGGGG

throngs of children pile in to say “HELLO!!!!” and then evaporate as quickly as they materialized

 

there’s no toilet paper in the bathroom

but the mother has baked us a cake and would like to know if we’d like hot chocolate

her lips are moving but I hear an underwater echo “This is generosity. Remember it. Learn from it. Practice it. This is it.”

 

the father has probably FaceTimed with every living relation by now

because with babysitters around

the pressure is off

and maybe we didn’t bring enough but at least he’s relaxed

 

There’s one little boy who is the physical embodiment of the word rambunctious

and after a few hours of squealing, I start to think

What have I possibly done to piss you off?!

Why can’t you be cuddly like your sisters?

If you slap me one more time, so help me…

until I’m playing pinball soccer on the floor, wedged between two mattresses

and his brother starts to mindlessly translate for him

“He’s saying that he loves you.”

“He says that he wishes you didn’t have to leave.”

 

 

 

Well

fuck.

 

 

I love you too, little guy.

I love that you aren’t telepathic

and I love how wrong I was

 

you can only yell for so many hours

before the couch claims your backside

so we dug into the arsenal of quiet games

the ones I learned while sitting in pews and desks

 

one girl painted a box with the art supplies we brought

and I wrote a note

signing my name in Arabic

thankful it was short when I clumsily mimicked the pen strokes

 

and I was suddenly back in Nicaragua

dancing to no music with Yilda on my hip

Sidra was Syrian Yilda

 

How do you tell someone that a moment is full of synchronicity and poetry and you’re so grateful you could squeal?

you don’t.

you lace your fingers together and shiver as a star-kissed silhouette

you meet her gaze from under her head scarf

and say thank you until your toes go numb

 

then

you run to the car

and go home

or your home away from home

or at least to the place where you’re sleeping tonight

because that’s home

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