Backyard Compassion

It's easy to read the news and feel appalled at atrocities happening on the other side of the world. From the comfort of our couches in air-conditioned homes, where our fridges are stocked with food and we have no fear of militants or plague knocking on our doors, we read at leisure on our laptops and feel genuine concern for the residents of war-torn and blighted regions of our planet. If we're feeling especially generous, maybe we even retrieve our credit cards and donate twenty dollars. But then we close our laptops and get in our cars and drive to the grocery store, because despite the fact that our fridges are stocked, we've run out of shallots or heavy cream or something else we simply must have for that dish we saw on Pinterest and have been dying to make.

In my neighborhood, a trip to the grocery store includes a dozen encounters with refugees. For the most part, these are innocuous, the crossing of paths and continuing of separate lives. Occasionally, I see hostility. Someone honks at the family crossing the road, walking too slow for the driver's liking. A veiled woman receives sidelong glances which may or may not carry judgement with them. In the store, shoppers steer clear of the couple speaking loudly in a language that sounds harsh, simply because it includes sounds we cannot replicate. I dread the bearded bigot whose home splits the distance between my house and the store, as he's likely to confront an immigrant and rant about social security and borders and "real" Americans.

Families come from all over the world to begin new lives in what is, hopefully, a safe environment. In the past decade, refugees have come to Boise from over 30 countries. We will never know what they have endured. No human can understand the full complexities of another's past, but we can, at least for a moment, stop to consider what it must be like to transplant your life. Foreign soil. Everything different and shocking and difficult to comprehend, from language to clothing to food and rules and transportation and social etiquette.

The experience often seems harder on the adults. A seven-year-old refugee will likely receive kindness and friendship from his new classmates here, while the boy's parents will feel disdain from their new neighbors. Maybe we need to take a cue from our 2nd graders.

Today is the day for 1000 Voices for Compassion. Instead of gawking at tragedy around the world, I'm paying tribute to those survivors who have made it here, to our own backyard, and who deserve not just our patience, but also our respect.

A woman selling coal in her shack after the earthquake destroyed her house in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti on August 25, 2010. arindambanerjee /

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