"Think of giving not as a duty but a privilege." - John D Rockefeller Jr.
Today was the last day of our Five Days of Kindness here at HeartBeatsHate. And, while each of our partnerships has been amazing, today was really something else.
A small but mighty group of HeartBeatsHate volunteers met at Reception House - a home for government-assisted refugees - to share a meal. Each of us had contributed something to make an “authentic” Waterloo Region meal, albeit with a few tweaks to ensure the food was halal. There was a salad with local apples and maple syrup, a cabbage and potato side (very German) and chicken schnitzel. We waited in the kitchen to meet those we’d be sharing a meal with. We knew there were 18 individuals from a number of families from around the world, including Eritrea, South Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. When our guests met us there was an awkward silence - filled with a lot of hand gestures (English was not a common language). We HeartBeatHate volunteers weren’t sure what to do. And so, we spoke silence. The silence didn’t last long after that.
The star of the show was a gorgeous 10-month-old - all rolls and bright eyes - who was giggling at first over a clementine, and then over some silly faces adults are prone to make to a baby. Others soon joined in. Small chuckles swelling to big belly laughs. We watched each other eat - some furrowed brows as applesauce was added to buns and schnitzel, but after some hand gestures, a brave soul tried the same. His smile told the others this wasn’t as odd as it may appear. More hand gestures, more trying variations of the food, then some thumbs up, and smiles. Every so often the meal was punctuated with a tentative word or two in English. Soon names were exchanged, along with ages, relationships, countries of origin. We did learn one universal word: chocolate. And as it came out for dessert, the energy in the room swelled even more.
After lunch we had been asked to lead an activity or games that didn’t require English. Out came popsicle sticks, paint, glitter. And everyone - young and old - gathered around the table to craft some snowflakes, flags, and inventive creations. Through kindness, we were all speaking with one another -- still lots of pointing, all punctuated with an odd word in English or two. By now the room was buzzing - we were all communicating with each other, we were all happy. The messages were clear: we were all accepted, we were all friends.
Some argue that music is a universal language - that you don’t need to understand the words to feel the message being conveyed. Others have argued that math - which has been used for centuries in all cultures - is the universal language. Math is so universal that in the New Scientist, Martin Rees proposes that it may be the key to enable us to communicate with life on other planets. But, after today’s lunch, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a simpler universal language - one that each of us can choose to speak, each and every day. The language of kindness.
Think about it. When you see someone smile, you smile. When you hear laughter, you laugh. Today, as over 20 of us with family ties to at least a dozen countries sat down to eat together, we all spoke the same language. Kindness. Just imagine what the world would be like if each of us chose this each and every day.