Something unexpected and normal happened just now

international_rescue_committee_logoI was well into my lineup of questions and answers, ordinal numbers and time sequences in class today, blue marker and red marker, hoping my students were getting something out of my antics when something unexpected happened.

She’s maybe three years old. She has the brightest eyes and incredible laughing smile, and she’d lost one of her shoes somewhere. She plays for most of my English class, blocks and panda bears, while her mother learns at a truly incredible pace, moving rapidly from knowing few words when she got to America two months ago to now, when she helps me teach the other Arabic speakers.

boy-standing-in-refugee-camp-in-gevgelija-serbia-dsc_8453But the little one eventually gets bored and wanders off. She loves opening and closing doors, usually with herself on the other side, and the entire office knows her name and laughter, and soon someone will bring her back, a smile on their face, and deposit her at the table where she’ll look around, find her mom, and exclaim with the purity of a child’s joy “Mama!”

She’d snuck out during my lineup, somewhere around “Who arrived third to class today?” and I was just writing “Who got here next to last?” when she popped out from behind my white board easel with a giggle. Someone had given her a multicolored abacus, and she proudly presented it to me, setting it up with a three year old’s precision then stepping back to make space for my admiration and looking up as if saying “Can you believe this incredible thing!?”

400000-syrian-refugee-children-cannt-access-to-education-in-turkeyAnd it was. It was an incredible thing. Because there I was on a Friday afternoon in Oakland, every cell in my body feeling heavy with the ominous portents for my country’s future, but here was this little girl, a Syrian refugee who had been through hell without even the words to name the horrors, and she was giggling up at me and presenting an abacus for my enjoyment.

It was something unexpected, and yet absolutely commonplace. I am privileged to spend some afternoons with these people, these incredible, beautiful human souls, and though the ostensible reason is so I can give them more English words and usage, the reality is that they give me hope, gratitude, and a love for our species that can be hard to grasp in the screen-shaped world.

So yes, I’m terrified for our country, but absolutely, I am confident in the human spirit. I am confident that we will continue to move forward. And I’m confident that we as America will continue to make this the kind of place people like this wonderful little girl and her mother want to come to for safety and a better future.