Have you ever realized, after a particularly bitter fight or an angry encounter, that you’ve flat out broken your relationship with someone, whether they’re a friend or a stranger? You know that sinking feeling you get, realizing how much work it will take to repair the trust?
This morning we met with Najlaa, a former teacher from Iraq now working for Direct Aid Iraq, a small and very focused group that responds to the immediate medical and other needs of refugees that are unable to access urgently needed help from more beaurocratic aid agencies. She is an incredibly competent woman, accomplishing a great deal in terms of concrete benefits to the refugees who call her for help. But she also sustains a philosophy that bringing help directly from American citizens can heal the broader traumatization of Iraqi/American relations, preventing future conflict. Each act of assistance is accompanied by a statement of American goodwill, so that recipients are provided both a concrete benefit and a message in furtherance of peace. Nearly all of DAI’s funding comes from the United States, and hundreds of refugees here in Amman have already received this double gift. She described the process on both sides as “washing the heart with tears.”
Najlaa’s lesson of intentional reconciliation was brought into focus for me as our bus driver returned us to the hotel. Seeing a march up ahead, he swerved up a side street and pulled over, insisting we walk the rest of the way ourselves. He didn’t want our bus (oh-so-subtley labeled “Tourists” in big lettering) to get rocks thrown at it on its way through the crowd.* The demonstration was in response to the recent bombings in Gaza, not directly against America, but the proverbial cycle of violence was clearly present: “Arafat, teach us how to blow up airplanes” chanted one section of the 2,000-person crowd.
This post is emphatically not about guilt (as I read in a rather cheesy book I won’t name, guilt is the ego tricking us into thinking we’re making moral progress). There will always be people learning how to bomb airplanes (and cities and embassies and innocent civilians), and when it’s not done in God’s name, I notice it’s often done in ours. So the rest of us will just have to learn other skills, like how to pick up the pieces.
* We’re pretty sure he was just being overly cautious. We walked through the crowd to the hotel and definitely did not get stoned. Jordan is pretty safe, and the people have been nothing but kind and welcoming toward us – more on that later.
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