Humanity, It’s Who We Are
We arrived home from Thailand with time for me to unpack, start a load of wash and immerse myself in a much needed bath while listening to the evening ‘Call to Prayer.’ My eyes closed, the words from Mosque floated somewhere in my mind, a rhythmic chanting, indecipherable. I offered up my own prayer to God, one of surrender and thanks…for the journey of the past nine days, for people both wondrous and diverse, for a life that feels heavy at times and buoyant at others, for every time good outweighs evil and we can breath a little more deeply.
It was in Thailand, looking out over the Indian Ocean when I read about the terrorist act in Sweden. An ocean of calm in front of me, while miles away the tragedy played out, shattering lives and peace and the unspoken trust that we are humans first. It was strange to see my surroundings and think of places and people suffering. After that, I couldn’t look at Thailand in the same way—I didn’t.
Somehow everything became a metaphor—the overgrowth and the undergrowth of vegetation for example, how it took over trees, strangling whatever it could cling too. The jungle is a place based on survival, nature at its most elemental—unforgiving and risky. And at that moment, the world felt very much the same. It felt like we were all in a savage jungle, dangers lurking in beautiful corners—New York, London, Berlin, Brussels, Paris and more and now Stockholm, witnesses to the destruction of the very thing—humanity—that religion tries to sanctify.
The next morning, on our way to breakfast, we happened upon an injured butterfly. It’s blue wings were wet and muddy. It seemed like a sign. We lifted it gently, laying it to rest on a lovely patch of green, out of the way of stomping feet. With hope still fluttering in its wings, the message was this: Yes, we get damaged, but we survive.
Later in the week, on one of our boat excursions, we came to a city on the water, Koh Panyee, nicknamed the “Floating Village.” The name rightly conjures images of hope and survival. The village, built entirely on stilts in the ocean, began in the early 18th century, when two Malay families were denied entry onto Thailand’s Mainland because they were Muslim. Being fishermen by trade, they set up homes over the water, and continued their work, growing in number, until they’d constructed an entire city, with a school, a Mosque, and shops and now restaurants tourists flock to.
Years ago, when the children of Panyee watched The World Cup and wanted to play soccer, the families of this village built a floating soccer pitch. The boys played without shoes, jumping into the ocean to retrieve their ball when kicked out-of-bounds. They became so good at soccer, that they started competing with teams on the Mainland. For the last seven years, the Panyee team has won the Thai Soccer Championship! There’s a plaque that will tell you their story near the soccer pitch.
Their homes, the planks of wood we stood on, walking over the ocean, were constructed from hard work, dreams, and the instincts to survive. A life on the water; the Panyee carved out an existence in their “jungle.” A place where tourists now find inspiration and beauty. Another testament that we are born from what is difficult, raised again to something unexpected and wonderous. Panyee was my answer to the question I’d been holding: Can we dare to have hope in this crazy broken world of ours? Panyee answered yes.
On our last day in Phuket, Cooper and I walked into town in search of a few souvenirs and the bottles of aloe vera they sell everywhere for tourist’s sunburns. Along the way we happened into a shop with carved elephants, real pearls and Thai silk scarves–lovely. We were “only looking,” when we met a British woman and her Iranian husband, seated in the furtive but casual act of purchasing a rug from a gentlemen from Kashmiri. It was for their new apartment just down the street. A place where they could escape the dreary winter of London and come more often once they were retired. As things go, we lingered for over an hour, talking everything from Syria to Trump, Rumi the poet to Persian culture, food and politics and how history in the end, still repeats itself. When the travel ban to America came up—the Brit, the Iranian, the Kashmiri—all were quick to say how much they loved the American people and the country; it was our governments to blame for the trouble between us.
By the end we’d promised, should we ever come back, to join them for dinner. It was one of those chance, but not chance, encounters. A meeting that bequeaths you a gift, a lens for seeing, not a mechanical lens, but rather the eyes to peer into the beautiful depths of another human’s soul. A reminder of the loveliness of humanity, the kindness, the hospitality that we share just by smiling into one another faces.
These are the moments that restore our faith that the world hasn’t all gone stark raving mad. There are still people who hold to the invisible thread of humanity, the one that continues to weave this intricate work we call life—String Theory for humans. We’re tethered to this ever evolving design and if we could step back, far, far away, we could see we are part of a pattern—each of us.
The pattern is all around us, it’s God’s hands in everything, and everywhere. He is not the tragedy unfolding, but the thread of many hands joined together to weave and heal and bind up what is broken. Thailand holds the memory of this lesson, along with so much untamed beauty it is hard not to wish to return. There are places on earth where it is easy to see God, where the very wind seems to whisper his name. It’s important to have our God places, to have our good memories, to keep a spot of refuge for when life feels risky and rejection comes calling. It’s good to also remember, hope is already in our hands. We’re holding onto it, just by being human, by agreeing to be here in this together.
In Thailand, it is customary when you say thank you or good-bye, to press the palms of your hands together, just below your chin, hovering over your heart while giving a slight bow. It’s a gesture that slows the pace of life to the calming speed of love and gratitude. It’s a state of mind and heart that translates in any language. It’s what we can do, not outwardly, but inwardly, toward one another to bring our hearts a little closer, our hands holding the thread a little stronger. In the words of Dalai Lama, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Thailand was my lesson that with each small gesture, each chance encounter, each tragedy we face, we can find something greater—our human connection and the faith to keep trusting in humanity.