What a fire, a war, and day of volunteering have in common

March 6, 2018


Dear Community Matters,


I just wanted to share my appreciation for the launch of Community Matters, and particularly the partnership with Women’s Refugee Care. It’s already given me so much, just one of which is this opportunity to reflect.


15 years ago, on the night of March 20, 2003, as a sophomore away at college, I learned that my family’s home had burned down. Within the course of a single day they were left with no worldly possessions beyond the clothes on their backs, and the few bits they’d brought to work and school that day. The next morning as I drove North from Providence to be with them, NPR informed me that we’d officially gone to war in Iraq that very day. The coincidence of those two events was not lost on me. It wasn’t just my family who had been displaced that day. Of course I’d been exposed to news of wars before in my life, but I guess it took this fire to rapidly close the empathetic gap between my experience and those of people so far away.


I arrived home to find my family surrounded by friends and community members, digging around in the smoldering pit of what was once our home, everyone covered in soot and wearing face masks as they sifted through the ashes. Community had swelled around us, providing all of those little things we take for granted, like fresh toothbrushes and warm socks. They wrapped us in a dignifying embrace, and it just made everything ok. But what about those people in Iraq, plunged into a war zone that very same day? Displacement, I learned, is indiscriminate. It can happen to any one of us at any moment. I looked around at our friends arriving by the minute with arms full of food and clothes and wondered what if we’d all just lost our homes and much more in the blink of an explosion? How could we have managed to take care of one another then? The chaos my family was experiencing was, so contained, such a freak occurrence, so privileged in that we were being so generously supported. It is displacement at scale that’s so destabilizing. A reality that’s only expanding in today’s world, as Ai Wei Wei’s recent film ‘Human Flow’ so potently captures. The question for me then is, well, how can I best support others, be it near or far, who are experiencing that overwhelming sense of loss and unknowing?


In the 15 years since that question first came into focus, I’ve hardly found a way to act on it that’s felt meaningful. I’ve, tried to support Refugee Care programs, but just showing up to one off events, or giving money to big NGO's has felt really disconnected. I’ve reached out to organizations in Rhode Island to volunteer, but haven’t really found a way in. So, this opportunity to be part of a grounding force for recently resettled refugees left untethered, which Community Matters and Women’s Refugee Care have provided, is one I’m deeply grateful for. Thank you for opening the door to this work in a way that is so close and connected to my daily practices. Thank you for making the offering so accessible, through bi-weekly suggested donations of goods. Thank you for exponentially expanding my own sense of community by introducing me to recently re-settled families from the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Social Justice crusaders in Providence, and other yogis. I was struck by what good medicine it was to sit in the energy of the studio filled with live music, shared stories, and nervous chatter on the evening of the Gala event. I was reminded of the smiling faces who’d shown up at my family’s hole in the ground of a house that day 15 years ago pouring hot tea and rolling their sleeves up and I realized they were probably feeling this same sense of fortitude -- the strength that wells up when we galvanize around right action, the joy discovered in the simple act of coming together in loving kindness. It really is a big ‘ol wheel I guess, and regardless of where our particular experience sits in the cycle of creation or destruction at any given moment, community really does matter.


Love,   emily


(The image is a flower mandala created by Emily and her family)

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Providence, RI, USA