Fabric and Grace

Fabric and graceIn the bleak, dull grey of winter, refugees from Somalia, Ghana, and Chad stand out like blazing rays of sunshine; sunshine made of fabric and grace.Wearing my customary black pants and sweater, the assumed business wear of the Career Woman in Boston, I feel drab in comparison. The only color is in my cheeks – red from the cold. I look around and wish I had worn my scarf, purchased for a bargain from a vendor in the Khan el Khalili bazaar in Cairo, boasting colors of brilliant fuchsia, orange, purple, and red beautifully blended into a woven pattern.

The fabric and grace of these refugee patients strikes me. The cloth is light cotton, useless against the chill of the season, but so beautiful. So unexpected. So rich and full of stories.

It’s draped artistically but practically over body and shoulders, a piece of their identity that they struggle to keep despite the winter cold. Heavy coats, purchased from women’s clothing aisles at the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores in the city, hang on chair backs as they sit in the waiting room of this busy community health center.

The United Nations can boast nothing over this waiting room. At any point there are over 70 languages being spoken from over 60 countries.

Each face tells a story, each body represents a journey, each soul a trauma, all wrapped up in fabric and grace.

I want to stop and ask them questions, find out their stories, write their stories and make sure all see them. But I have to go, have to leave all this color and go to a black and white meeting void of fabric or grace. So I smile, say hello, soak in the smiles I’m given in return — more sunshine.

I shake my head in amazement at the resilience of the human spirit, Grace indeed.

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A World Removed

My youngest brother Dan, and his wife, Carol, are in the country of Chad. They have gone there for meetings where my brother is a featured speaker, and Carol is working with others to hold a children’s program.

If you look at a map of Africa, Chad is right in the center. Until 1960 Chad was part of France’s “Africa holdings”. At that time it achieved independence and has gone through decades of civil war, threats and invasions from Libya located on its northern borders, and sporadic rebellions from within. In this land-locked country, three times larger than the state of California, there are multiple ethnic groups, religions, and social inequities. Female life expectancy is 49 years and male 47, so only about 3 percent of the population is over age 64. Latest reports bring news of a cholera epidemic hitting central Africa with Chad being one of the countries most severely affected.

In a short email to my brother this morning I asked how they were doing and gave some basic news, ending with the information that tonight I am going to a fashion-show at an élite hotel in Boston as a fundraiser for breast cancer research and treatment. I stopped in the middle of typing. It is such a stark contrast to the world that they are currently experiencing. It is mind-boggling. I am going to a sequins and silk event at a cost of seventy-five dollars a ticket (I am invited by a generous friend to go for free). We will sip on cocktails in a beautiful lobby at the Liberty Hotel, a historic building that was originally the Charles Street Jail and is now turned into a luxury hotel. After cocktails and mingling, we will go to a fashion show and swoon over a designers creations. I ended the email saying “It’s a world removed from where you are, and what you are doing”. And it is.

I am again reminded that in one part of the world extreme poverty and problems are constant, even as in another place, an elegant fashion show, complete with music and soft lights, is being held. Even more striking, in one part of the city a meal for the homeless will be served out of large metal pots, while in another, white- coated waiters will offer appetizers to a well-dressed crowd.

I’ve experienced both worlds and one thing I know is that in both places there are hearts that are empty and longing. Your belly and wallet can be full, while your heart and soul, hidden by the façade of silk and velvet, are empty and crying out for meaning. A world removed? In some ways yes, in others not at all.

Have you experienced both worlds? What is your response to the contrast?