Real life is much more hopeful. These delusions of danger and division are incredibly fragile notions that in fact depend on isolation from our shared existence. They are ideas that can only exist in the paranoid minds of cynics who are too afraid—of change, of others, or perhaps even of themselves—to open their limited lives to an entire world that is overwhelmingly defined by beauty and truth and joy (despite the bleakness presented by newspaper headlines).
At the root of our societal antagonism is a systemic misunderstanding of other people and their cultures—as well as a refusal to work towards rectification. Probably the most misunderstood and maligned group in Trump’s America are Muslims, who have been insidiously misconstrued as diametrically opposite and opposed to everything for which “we” stand.
This damaging perception depends on illusion, manipulation and deception— all systematically orchestrated by structures of power and domination. The most productive and important way to combat these prejudices is through the simple act of talking; by sharing our experiences and our realities with one another, we enter into each other’s worlds and learn from them.
Last night, my family was invited to enter the world of a family of Syrian refugees who came to Albuquerque eighteen months to escape the impending dangers of wartime in their hometown of Idlib. The loving family of eight generously shared their home and their celebrations with us as they broke the day’s fast with a tremendous Iftar feast.
Naturally, food and futbol served as our first channels of fellowship; the beaming light that radiated in the young boys’ eyes when I asked them to play soccer was a perfect reflection of the way my family’s eyes lit up as the mother brought out each mouthwatering course, from savory fried kibbeh to delectable yabrak dolmas and a heaping plate of spectacular saffron rice with beef and toasted slivers of almond.
Over the course of the evening, we learned about the family’s lives, participated in their traditions, lamented their struggles and reveled in their successes. Though language barriers occasionally muddled conversation— particularly because the father of their family, a gently affectionate man with kind eyes, was deaf—they did not obstruct communication between families. In fact, the remarkable power of expression and gesture nurtured a truly intimate and genuine connection; the smiles soaring across the table spoke more lovingly and more powerfully than any words ever could. We shared the most beautiful thing humans can offer one another (even above food and futbol)— our experiences and our stories, and, within them, our selfs.
This opportunity was orchestrated through the local Lutheran Family Services Refugee & Asylee Program as part of their “Beyond The Plate” initiative, which supports refugee families by providing an avenue to share and teach their own culture to their new communities. The agency’s impact goes far beyond these home dinners and cooking classes, however; part of the joy of the night was witnessing the immense affection and endearment blossoming between the family and the two agency members who have helped them since their arrival in ‘Burque. I was incredibly touched by a moment in conversation where the mother stumbled for the word to describe their relationship with these two women. Prompted with the word ‘friends,’ she emphatically shook her head and confidently spoke, “No. Not friends. Family.”
The fearmongering and schismatic propaganda promoted in popular culture are fragile fallacies, and all of us possess the potential and agency to combat them. It takes a bit of bravery, a dash of confidence, and a concentrated effort to step beyond constricting boundaries of comfort—but the reward is a constant stream of truly meaningful experiences that tear down boundary and recognize humanity everywhere.
Through the simple act of talking, we are able to combat a pervading insistence on difference and detachment. We develop a mature and multivalent understanding of the world we collectively share, and that understanding enriches the world—not your tiny fragment of it, but the glorious totality—with truth, compassion and love. By embracing and exploring our differences as well as our similarities, we achieve connection based on appreciation of others as equals and individuals, worthy of dignity and compassion. We achieve communion.
I began this article with the name of our slimy current President, because I hope that the name Donald Trump is the only legacy he leaves behind. I will end it with the words of our noble last President, Barack Obama, whose legacy will resound through the country and the world for generations:
“We have a stake in one another...What binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and...if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done for the people with whom we share this Earth.”