Imagine waking up after hearing an ear-piercing blast outside your house, while your brother shakes and yells at you that you need to get out of the house cause you are getting bombed. Disoriented, you put your shoes on, grab your old backpack and fill it with the little stuff you reach to grab while your brother yells hysterically that there is no time.
A couple of months pass by, and by now you’ve been in several refugee camps, you are absolutely sure that you´ll never be able to go back home, at least not the home you knew. Never able to enjoy a hot cup of coffee in the morning before going to work or hit the snooze button again and again because your bed is so cozy and you don’t want to get up. You don’t even have a sense of what home is anymore.
Living in a country where nothing remotely like this has happened recently, it’s really hard to imagine what a refugee must be actually going through.
I mean, can you imagine losing your home? And bear in mind that we are not just talking about a physical house, we are talking about daily routines, friends, family, possessions, we are talking about the whole idea of what home is to a person. The refugee crisis is a true catastrophe, there is no other word to describe it.
I stumbled unto a post from Brain Pickings titled “ What you need to be warm”. I was fascinated by the ways in which we can help each other. It’s easy to think that when it comes to this gargantuan troubles of humanity, that you cannot do anything, but you can my friend. Even if it is just through the act of understanding, while it’s so easy to be blinded by the constant flux of meaningless entertainment. Just by realizing in your own self that there is work to do and that by doing your work well, you will be happier yourself and make the world a better place. All of these without falling into desperation or frustration, but remain constant in your practice of living a worthy life, in your own way.
Neil Gaiman, prolific writer, and ambassador for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, is helping, for example, with his art. He made an interesting experiment in which he asked on his Twitter account the question of “What warmth means to you?”, and among the thousands of words he received, he crafted this beautiful piece:
WHAT YOU NEED TO BE WARM
by Neil Gaiman
A baked potato of a winter’s night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth.
A blanket knitted by your mother’s cunning fingers. Or your grandmother’s.
A smile, a touch, trust, as you walk in from the snow
or return to it, the tips of your ears pricked pink and frozen.
The tink tink tink of iron radiators waking in an old house.
To surface from dreams in a bed, burrowed beneath blankets and comforters,
the change of state from cold to warm is all that matters, and you think
just one more minute snuggled here before you face the chill. Just one.
Places we slept as children: they warm us in the memory.
We travel to an inside from the outside. To the orange flames of the fireplace
or the wood burning in the stove. Breath-ice on the inside of windows,
to be scratched off with a fingernail, melted with a whole hand.
Frost on the ground that stays in the shadows, waiting for us.
Wear a scarf. Wear a coat. Wear a sweater. Wear socks. Wear thick gloves.
An infant as she sleeps between us. A tumble of dogs,
a kindle of cats and kittens. Come inside. You’re safe now.
A kettle boiling at the stove. Your family or friends are there. They smile.
Cocoa or chocolate, tea or coffee, soup or toddy, what you know you need.
A heat exchange, they give it to you, you take the mug
and start to thaw. While outside, for some of us, the journey began as we walked away from our grandparents’ houses
away from the places we knew as children: changes of state and state and state,
to stumble across a stony desert, or to brave the deep waters,
while food and friends, home, a bed, even a blanket become just memories.
Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,
to hold out a badly-knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say
we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.
You have the right to be here.
The poem itself feels warm, doesn’t it? It’s melancholically beautiful and full of empathy. It reminisces home. It reminds of songs by Bon Iver as well.
The feeling of warmth, the feeling of safety, a feeling that everybody should be able to feel after a tough day at work. But coming back to the refugees, they will not have it for a while.
I’m sure as well that there will be times, or there have been times in your life when you have lost this feeling of homecoming and safety as well.
So although the feeling of home and warmth is one of the greatest feelings on this earth. We must also be prepared to deal with whatever circumstance fate brings us upon. And so now I want to talk about a different kind of feeling, a feeling that many refugees must be experiencing in themselves, even if they have never read a piece of Stoic philosophy before in their lives.
The feeling, the emotion, the understanding I’m talking about, is that of inner fire. Albert Camus does best in explaining it in a simple quote.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.”
― Albert Camus
In the depths of the soul, there is a fiery fire, a fire that can light up entire halls and be seen from the distance, a fire that attracts lost travelers and that warm everything around it. Many times, it is kindled when we have no other options, it illuminates our way when we need it the most, as I’m sure many refugees do at the moment.
I can compare this feeling to the moment Rohan arrived to save Gondor from the orcs and darkness, blowing their horns and charging on their horses against them.
I wonder, is there anything comparable to that feeling of charging against chaos and the dark? Is there any time a man shines brighter than when he shines from the inside? That’s not warmth, those are the fiery flames and fire of the soul. Flames, each and every one of us possess by right of existence.
If I can only remind you of this capacity within you, my job will be complete.
Fire spreads and this kind of fire needs spreading. Spread it out.
subscribe and receive the Askesis ebook to further develop your practice of stoicism.
I’m always open to suggestions and am happy to answer any questions. firstname.lastname@example.org