Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Helpers" Who Carry Us Through Sandstorms and Fog....

Desert Fog

When I woke up in the morning after the terrorist attacks in France, the dawn only faintly appeared to be on the horizon.  Instead, the transparent light was blocked, and heavy fog hovered over Doha, Qatar.  I was somewhat nervous to drive my son to school, not being able to clearly see the oncoming traffic.

Later in the same afternoon, another kind of dimness began to hang over the city: a swirling sandstorm blew in to shroud Doha, and blew a murky haze that stubbornly clung to buildings and mosques around the region.  Again, in just one day, my vision was blocked from seeing in the distance.  The usual bright, radiant sunlight was dimmed, almost fading away in the mid afternoon. Dark shadows approached earlier with the sunset, and the luminous pastels that typically paint the sky were covered with a lingering sandstorm.  A layer of dusty sand speckled everything in view.

Just as the terrain here in Qatar was heavy with clouds and sand, there was also a grief, even a gloom, that would not blow away in me after hearing about the French terrorist attacks.  A line in a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins is recalled: "I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day."  My heart hurt for the families of those who had died, and lives who were so needlessly lost.  I was heartened to hear that the Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar called French President Francois Hollande.  He expressed his condolences and sympathy to the government and families of the victims, and professed a "harsh condemnation" about the attacks.  Also, I unequivocally believe Malek Merabet, the brother of the slain Muslim policeman who was killed on the sidewalks of Paris when he said, "My brother was Muslim, and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims."

A picture of Doha during the sandstorm. 


He movingly continued, "Islam is a religion of peace and love.  I address myself now to all the racists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites.  One must not confuse extremists with Muslims.  Mad people have neither color or religion.  I want to make another point:  don't tar everybody with the same brush.  Don't burn mosques--or synagogues. You are attacking people...."

Since moving to Doha, Qatar a few months ago,  I have been greatly touched by the pure goodness of my new Muslim neighbors and friends--people whom I cherish and love now.  While I celebrated and worshipped during the Christmas holidays, my dear neighbor and friend, Abier, went to Mecca and Medina with her family.  When she returned, we sat down to talk about the holidays that we shared with our families.

She spoke with me about her experiences in Islam's holy sights, and then movingly said to me, as she held my hand, "I couldn't stop thinking about you and your family while I was in Mecca and Medina. As her beautiful eyes gazed into my own, she said, "I prayed for you and each of your family. Everytime I went around the Ka'ba, I thought, I should pray for one more person in your family."   I intuitively felt of her spiritual experience, and her enlarged heart.  As she spoke to me in such a tender, kind way, a few tears swelled in my eyes.  Her daily attempts to compassionately love stir me; our friendship makes me want to be a better person.

Although around the world people continue to place borders on their love and acceptance of others, I still believe that a quote by the English poet, Coventry Patmore is achievable--not only in individuals, but in neighborhoods, and even in communities.  He states that ties and links in a community are formed... "not in similarity, but in dissimilarities,... not in unison, but conjunction, which can only be between spiritual dissimilars."  I daresay the most beautiful mosaics and paintings are the ones with the most contrast, texture, and color--where the greatest differences exist.

War, strife, terrorism will likely continue, but I am consoled when I see the innumerable good people of this world--the people who are willing to embrace, rescue, comfort.  They are all around us, much of the time at our elbow as we sit on a bus or train.  Surely, we walk by them every day.

Fred Rogers, the American educator and television host for several generations of children said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.'  To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are so many helpers--so many caring people in this world."

After this week, I am more committed to being "a helper"--wherever the road leads....

We have felt grief and mourning in the world this week, but cleansing rain always returns to clear the bleak fog and sandstorms.  I believe people are ultimately merciful, unifying, and resilient.  To feel the drizzle this week in Doha (after the sandstorms and fog) reminds me of hope--that light will penetrate the shadows. Indeed,  I am confident that there will always be "helpers" in the world who will rise up, and slice away the intolerances and false judgements--erasing hate in hidden corners and loving unexpected people.  As Martin Luther King taught, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."  My experiences and journeys in Qatar are showing me there is tremendous love in all pockets of this world, and that it can unfailingly wash away the darkness--drop by drop.