One of the doormen in our building came over last night for a late night chat – Bejto from Bosnia. The conversation focused on our desire to move from the United States to somewhere new. Sergio and I began waxing poetic about finding what you love, loving what you do, and finding a place to live that feels 'just right'. Bejto nodded solemnly at us, and said he knew what we meant. He began to tell us about the time in his life when he also was on a journey to find a place to live that was just right. In the 90’s. As a refugee from the Bosnian war. Choosing between a destroyed home country, a refugee camp in Switzerland, and relocation to Serbia. As a Muslim.
He stretched his arms over his head, trying to remember in what month he, his wife, and his newborn daughter had decided to leave the Swiss refugee camp. His short shirt sleeves bunched up, revealing the scar on his upper left arm where a bullet from a sniper went in one side and out the other, during a shootout in the war. He then wrapped his hands around his water glass and described his life in those days: how hard it is to go back to your country after a war has bombed and shelled it to nothing, and why he ended up here in the first place. He didn’t tell his story sadly, with drama, or as a martyr. He just described to us how it was, as a fact of his life.
I listened to him speak, our panoramic view of Lake Michigan sparkling behind him, my stomach full after I complained of having “eaten too much” for dinner, and I was immediately humbled. And so grateful. Grateful that I, through no real effort on my part, have a life in which I can pursue such lofty ideals as happiness and personal fulfillment.
Sergio and I are two people of many who have been given the main things we need to achieve what we wish. So far, we’ve never dealt with hunger, poverty, violence, discomfort, or war – not in the true sense of these words. We can dismiss America and its land of opportunity as materialistic, corrupt, insincere, and “not our thing”. But we see America differently than a refugee from a warring country sees America. Or a kid on a small island in the middle of a third world country. It seems trite to tell a man who works 18 hour days, 6 days a week that work isn’t everything in life. That we just want to do what we love. That we want to follow our dreams. These kinds of sentiments change meaning in the face of actual struggle.
I’m not looking at Bejto with pity. Things are the way they are; each person deals with what they have to deal with. And I’m not saying we’re wrong to act and think the way we do, in our own circumstances. I’m only saying: that conversation shifted the way I see my own world.
I’m grateful that I turned out to be damn lucky. Lucky to be born in the right place at the right time; lucky to have parents who sacrificed and worked hard every single day to make sure we never knew what it meant to truly need something, who made us Priority Number 1. And it’s precisely because all these things have been handed to me, to us, that we feel a great responsibility to actually do something with it all.
During a Dave Farmar Power Yoga podcast the other night, lying in a pool of sweat on my mat in my clean, warm, lovely living room, Dave said:
When you must you can, and if you can, you must.
This idea we’ve had for the non-profit in the Philippines has unfortunately been pushed aside these last few months by more pressing matters: the concerns and habits that keep us busy in the day to day. But the idea itself is still brewing, ready to jump into action as soon as possible.
We absolutely can. So we definitely must.
Stay tuned for more regular posts, and the slow but sure development of something new.