THE MENTAL HEALTH LADY brings a basket of rocks.
The stress level for refugees is over the top by every measure. I sometimes try to imagine myself dropped into another country on the far side of the world, not knowing the language, not understanding the money, unable to read the expressions on faces or find a book in my language. But I cannot do it. It pushes past the limits of my imagination, what it would be like, everyone around me rushing here and there, knowing how to get where they need to go, and me just trying to figure out how to pull together some sort of supper for my family.
Resettlement takes an army of people. I am just one cog.
On the day the mental health lady comes, interpreters come, too. Students watch the woman with the basket of rocks in her lap as she describes the exercise. She stops talking. They look to their interpreters, listen and nod.
* * *
THE FIRST STUDENT selects a rock to represent a worry. She holds up the rock for everyone to see and tells of her worry. She speaks in her native language. Her interpreter repeats it in English. Then the class sets to buzzing, as around the room interpreters translate from English to the native tongues of other students. Now everyone has heard the person’s worry.
THE NEXT PERSON in the circle responds to the first person with “I hear you. I understand” and restates the worry back to the first person.
We are told not to try to fix the problem. The temptation to fix is universal, apparently. Several need to be reminded.
Person #2 then takes the rock from the first person.
I will carry that worry for you,” she says.
The basket passes to Person #2. We start all over again. And so it goes, all the way around the circle.
Not surprisingly, they share many of the same concerns. They worry they’ll never learn English. They worry about their children fitting in. They worry about getting jobs. They worry about families left behind, homes lost, the country they’ll never see again. One worries she will learn to speak, but not read or write.
The strangest thing is, hearing one concern after another can feel heavy, but overall, when it ends, things feel lighter. Each goes home, having been heard, having her rock carried by another and having someone else’s rock to carry. Are these not two of the very best things, to be heard and to have someone else to care about?
I go home, my heart-basket full. I will hold close all I’ve heard. And yet I’m not weighed down. Sounds crazy, I know. But in the sharing, in the nodding, even my burden is somehow lightened. Nothing has been fixed, nothing has changed. Maybe it’s just that I’ve witnessed people being kind to one another and that counts for something.