By Brian Wood
The trust of a child, the openness of their hearts and souls, is one of the most stirring experiences to possibly have in this form and on this earth.
I could not remember his face or what he looked like. I would not recognize him on the streets.
His energy and our interactions that lasted all of 90 seconds, these are imprinted on my heart forever.
How can they not be?
He was lifted off the dinghy and was crying loudly; fear filled his eyes left and right, his mouth was wide open, his tongue slightly pushed back in his mouth. He had just completed the most harrowing hours of his journey, across the Aegean Sea in a boat too small for all the people it carried, but somehow, they made it to shore.
My eyes locked on his as tears poured out from his eyes. I took him by the hand from another brother who helped him out of the boat. We walked a few steps, just out of reach of the oncoming tide. I wanted to keep him close – such fear in such a small child opened my heart widely. In his innocent, impressionable eyes, I could almost see the bombs dropping in his neighborhood through the fear exuding through them in that moment.
We turned and faced the sea, together.
I placed him on my left leg as I squatted on the beach rocks with my right knee. I gently removed his soaked, bright orange jacket while talking to him:
“Habibi, what is your name?” I asked, testing how distractible he was, or how we might build even an ounce of trust and love in the few moments we were going to have together. I was completely uninterested in stopping his cries or screams but I did want him to feel a sense of safety, even if such a sensation were transient, confined to a few moments on this island beach.
“Hamoudi,” he responded with an elongated, upswinging intonation on the last syllable of his name. He breathed in heavy a few times trying to catch his breath from his cries, his fears.
I took the opportunity he granted, seeing that he was completely willing to engage and accept my attention and love. My heart opened even wider. This was a special moment, almost one of ecstasy that calmed me deeply. I wanted that energy I felt transferred to him, or to help him to feel calm him in some measure.
“Hamoudi, how old are you?”
“Six,” now somewhat easing into the reality that he was sitting on my knee, my left arm wrapped around his torso to give him a tangible sense that he was settled, stable, and safe – again, even if transient such feelings were.
He put his right arm around my left shoulder as our conversation continued. And there we were, Hamoudi and I, sitting together on this rocky beach at Skala Sikaminias on the Greek island of Lesbos, facing the sea together.
“Where are you from Hamoudi?”
“Syria.” He was quite calm at this point, which settled my heart even further.
“You are most welcome, Hamoudi. I am thankful that God kept you safe thus far.”
Knowing well that I was not his utmost safety and that his family were those he would feel closest to, I inquired, “Hamoudi, where are your parents?”
He pointed 10 feet away as his mother disembarked from the black, rubber dinghy: “Right there.”
Her concerned, motherly eyes immediately surveyed the landscape looking for her children. As her son pointed towards her from such a close distance, her head, covered in a beautiful blue hijab, turned our way, the spot where Hamoudi and I were sitting comfortably, where Hamoudi’s tears were turned into smiles, and where our arms were wrapped around each other, pronouncing that for a split second, everything was okay.
– After living in Palestine from 2000-2002, Brian Wood worked to learn Arabic and gain medical skills to be ready to help in future crises. To that end, he went to Greece and worked on Lesbos Island with Greek solidarity groups receiving boats of people crossing the Aegean sea seeking refuge in Europe. Learn more and help.