I'm three days back from a whirlwind, wonderful trip in Paris with my husband and no children. It was nothing short of magical but what I brought home with me was not a souvenir, but a story. I'm going to be honest here and say that writing this is hard. I know it will invite comments that will upset me, but I just can't keep this inside. Too many of us turn our heads, scroll past, or choose to ignore tragedy staring us in the face. I am not a politician, a policy maker, or a diplomat. However, I am a mother and this exchange I had with another mother changed me.
It was our last night in Paris and we were exhausted from walking 30 miles in 3 days exploring such a beautiful city. Rather than go out for dinner, we chose a dinner in. As I sipped wine, looking out our hotel window, I watched a woman sweeping the concrete as her toddler and baby ran around her. I had seen many women all over Paris, holding signs saying "Syrian family, please help." As we entered the city, we saw small tent cities full of Syrian families. I held back tears as we sat on the bus and I stared at a young mother, so worn and tired, tickling her baby. As we walked through the city, we would smile and drop a few Euros here and there in random cups. However, this woman, outside my hotel window shattered my heart. I watched her push the cigarette butts, the dirt, and the garbage off the sidewalk. She was trying to make a clean place for her babies' to rest their head. She had a large rectangular box and began to set up their makeshift bed for the night. A young girl came by with a bag of food for the woman and an ice cream for the little girl. The little girl clapped and squealed with delight, as any two year old would getting an ice cream. It was at this point, watching this sweet baby bounce with glee by something my kids' have at their disposal that I lost it. Seeing the faces all week, reading the chemical gas headlines, made this more real than my heart could handle. My husband, knew this was inevitable. He hugged me and reassured me that sadly, the streets of Paris are safer than the remains of her destroyed and devastated home country. I took a deep breath, wiped my tears and backed away from the window because dinner was ready. We enjoyed our last meal but I was distracted. The squeals, cries, and laughter of the two children waved through the windows. My husband looked at me and said, "What do you want to do? I know you're not going to rest until you do something." He was right, but what the hell could I do? Buy her a meal? Buy clothes, diapers, something for the little ones? I had no idea but I did know, I just had to look her in the face and let her know that I cared. I grabbed the remaining Euros on the desk and took the marble elevator downstairs. The guilt of privilege choked me as I walked across the street. I approached her and the little girl stopped and stared at me. I got down to her level and smiled. The baby hid his face in his mother's shoulder. The mother looked at me and smiled. I handed over what we had and she grabbed my hand. She squeezed it so tight and the softness of her hands did not match the age of worry and trauma in her eyes. She thanked me over and over again and the little girl laughed.
I'm not writing this to brag about my charity or be the white, American savor. I'm writing this because in that moment, I did not see a displaced person, a nameless face of a headline. I looked at her woman to woman, mother to mother. There is a shared electricity, compassion, empathy, and connection between women if we just open ourselves up to it. It is so easy to see the images all over social media, scroll past thinking it is not my problem, and/or being frozen in helplessness. However, these are not stock images. These are real people living true tragedy with devastation that can no longer be ignored. It is easy to have the "not our problem" mentality because we are not seeing this face to face every single day due to policies set forth by our current administration.
This moment had a profound effect on me. It changed me in a way that I cannot describe. My former sense of helplessness has led me to find ways I can help. Below is a link to some of these resources:
When I marched in January with a million women in Washington D.C., I saw what can happen when women come together. We can no longer turn our heads. We have to come together and help, raise our voices, and speak for the five million people displaced. At the end of the day, we are all human.