A recent Facebook post by Violette Baillargeon speaks to the heart, pointing to the common humanity we share rather than the things that divide us. With her permission it is reposted here.
Like all of my adult students, they worked hard because it mattered, it meant the chance to put food on the table and of acquiring secure housing. Eager to make a new start for themselves and after having left behind careers as engineers, teachers, and entrepreneurs, they spent days with me in a musty Surrey portable shaken from their journey but never disheartened, eternally grateful for the opportunity this country had provided them.
The strength of their dedication often made me ask myself if I had the same courage, if I could start over and do it with so much commitment, if I may not turn bitter. But everyday they came, in the face of disappointment they showed grace, and in the face of hardship they showed resilience.
It is fair to say that while I may have taught them the mechanics of English, what they taught me was far greater and long-lasting.
Humbled by their courage and eternally impacted by their struggle, I vowed to forever recognize them as my kin and teachers, for this is the only way to eradicate distrust, alienation, and fear in its most destructive form, hatred.
Since that day, I have greeted every Muslim I have recognized, every woman wearing a veil and every man wearing a prayer cap, in the Muslim tradition using the greeting my students taught me, by saying “As-salamu alaykum,” Arabic for “may peace be upon you.” (pronounced a-SA-lam wa-LAY-kum).
Always, the reaction is its own reward. Ghandi said “if you speak to a man in his own language, that goes to his heart” and I have never been more sure of this than in those moments shared among perfect strangers. They often hold my gaze a second longer, a smile crosses their lips, they sometimes nod a quiet nod, and then respond with a blessing of their own “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam” (“and upon you Peace”).
It is my hope that my children’s world will see less fear, less alienation, less hate, and less suffering. I know that more war and killing is not the answer, I know that more distrust will not change this trend. The gift of my breath and of my beating heart tells me without doubt that love and compassion is the only way to affect change.
So, reach out to one another, especially to those who have left everything behind and who may have very little to lose. Greet others who are different with a generosity of spirit, with an open heart, and with a deep belief in shared kinship. In short, put one of yoga’s greatest teachings in practice: see yourself in ‘the other,’ and the other in you.
The light in me sees and recognizes the light in you and may peace be upon you always.