“Thank you for listening to me,” she said. Her eyes held mine as firmly as her hand clasped mine. “Thank you for listening.”
Listen I had as she spoke to me and to others in the UN community gathered for a reception for her and her colleagues from UNRWA in Syria. She spoke.
She spoke of life as a Palestine refugee. Her parents driven from their home as children and arriving in Syria to live supported by UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. There, in a camp, she was born.
She spoke of insecurity and not belonging.
She spoke of working for UNRWA – and caring for over 500,000 Palestine refugees find themselves in Syria.
She spoke of the conflict in Syria – a conflict that did not involve the Palestinian refugees until the last quarter of 2012. Then the conflict began to penetrate their communities and the Palestine refugees came under huge pressure that has increased.
She spoke of Palestine refugees driven from where they live – with nowhere else to go. Lebanon can be a place of refuge, but the cost of living makes life difficult for people who live so close to the edge.
She spoke of young Palestine refugees forced to choose, taken, swept into the maelström of war.
She spoke of being displaced. Three times. Since December. Her husband has lost his job and gone to Lebanon with their two older sons – for their safety, while she remained behind in Syria with their younger sons and her work.
She spoke of colleagues who refuse to obey emergency messages and come into work any way because they recognize the needs of the Palestine refugees and want to do what they can to help. Sometimes they, sometimes she, spends the night at work.
She spoke of courage and grace.
She spoke of trying to raise enough funds to provide the Palestine refugees $1 a day for six months.
She spoke of what should be – Palestinians living in Palestine – and until then, what needs to be – the international community fulfilling its obligations to protect the Palestine refugees.
She spoke. I listened.
As I said good-by, she thanked me for listening.
I recognize the power of listening and the ministry of presence. I seek to practice it. I encourage others to do so.
My first response was to say, “You are welcome. You are very welcome.”
I meant it. But it did not seem enough. I went on, “Thank you. You honor me by sharing your stories with me. I am so grateful.”
I listened. But I will do more. My new friend graced me with her story and her pain. Now I know and I bear the responsibility of knowing. I carry her and the Palestine refugees with me. I will remember. I will share what I heard and understood. I will pray. And I will find ways to act.
If you have read this far – you too have listened. You know. You bear the responsibility of knowing. What will you do?
See you along the Trail.