Posts in Refugees
The Real Problem at our Southern Border

I first left home as a 6-year-old to attend boarding school at a beach town in Vietnam. I have memories of things like tear gas. I have one memory in particular of all of us kids from my boarding school standing outside where the breeze was strongest, against our chain-link fence, looking out at the brilliant ocean which was like a sheet of tinfoil in the sun, crying because of the gas. I distinctly remember NOT being sad—I remember it as an adventure. Sure it hurt. It was also very exciting.

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Anchored

A second, more slow-motion shock was the flood. A siren sounded before we left our Airbnb. By noon we were barefoot with rolled up pant legs and joking about getting “the real Venice experience.” But that wasn’t the end of it. The following morning there were heavy rains and wind and a much longer siren that meant most of the city could flood.

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Voice

That was back in July and I've been chewing on this ever since. I’m pretty sure I intended to answer his question by complaining about how busy I am, how many hats I need to wear. These things are true and I say them all the time. Saying I lost my voice instead provoked me to think about what’s happening to or in me. Beautiful Day works with marginalized people who, for the most part, are hidden and voiceless—most obviously because they don’t speak English and don’t yet understand much about American culture…

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On Worry, Birds, Lovers on this Last Day of our May Appeal

This one has a beautiful bird who neither sows or reaps or writes grants or makes granola or handles HR or IT.  She’s openly vulnerable, glorious, somehow protecting or maybe just celebrating the lovers in their red refuge. (Egg? or nest? or—I know I read things into Chagall in part because he was a refugee. I’m taking it as that place of creative safety that so many refugees, and all of us who resonate with their experience, long for in our souls.)

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Excerpted from an address to Episcopal Charities

Many of us gathered here are inspired by the metaphor that a community functions as a body: made up of individuals yet creating a whole. If this is true, then we can't really know who we are unless we are thankful for those—the other body parts—around us.  A hand can’t ever be a foot; but it will be a happier, more humble, more curious, more effective and real hand when it begins to depend on that foot.  So that’s the invitation.  The warning is that if we ever participate in marginalizing other people—or start thinking we don’t need them—then we distort both our sense of ourselves and our sense of humanity.

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Surprisingly amicable self-interview Part 2: Barnett Newman, a blue chicken, the future of resettlement, and #Teamgranola.

I feel dark sometimes, but I don’t feel paranoid.  Beautiful Day is a tiny outpost on the periphery of the refugee galaxy and the US resettlement system, so nobody is out to get us, but we’ll need to be vigilant.  Our mission is going to be harder and harder to sustain if only because there will be fewer and fewer refugees arriving in the US, and thus in Providence. Meanwhile, the world population of refugees is growing rapidly.

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If the light within you is darkness:

What are the stakes if the United States turns its back on the refugees of the world?  I expect a vicious cycle: increased generation of refugees, increasing retention of refugees in some of the world's poorest countries who are least equipped to care for them, increased hopelessness of these populations, increased turning to radical anti-western solutions, decreased exposure in our communities to refugees, decreased empathy and understanding..

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Every breaking wave

It’s good thing to be alone and small in the presence of breaking waves and shifting dunes and the incredible beauty of a cold fog when some of your life work seems threatened.  When I checked my phone, it told me I was walking in open ocean.  For some reason that made me laugh out loud. The whole peninsula had shifted east since Google maps recorded it.  I keep thinking about that now. I'm a little person. 

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Muscles Matter

A couple months ago, on our way home from visiting my parents in Switzerland, Kathy and I spent a few days in Paris and a morning at the Rodin museum.  Next to Chagall, Rodin is my favorite artist. There are moments when I wonder if he might have benefited from a better sense of humor, but I love the way his sculptures reach past the anxious buzz of my mind and tell my soul how much people matter. Emotion matters, gestures matter, hands and feet matter, the interplay of bodies in space matter, the movement of a body—even in bronze and without a head (okay, he does have some sense of humor)—matter.  Muscles matter.  In a way that is message of Rodin for me: every muscle matters. 

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Funny Summer

It’s been a funny summer.

 In February I went to LA and pulled out my back.  I woke up. I yawned. I stretched.  The two kind of overlapped.  Then it was, uh oh, here we go. 

Kathy had arranged to meet a friend at a burger place at Venice Beach, so we went early and I popped into a Chinese deep tissue massage stall I found on the Ocean Front walk. I’m not sure I’d recommend it (it’s the one near the muscle guys, not the more expensive upstairs place that requires an appointment).  I pretty much cried my way through a 20 minute session. The guy actually placed the tip of his elbow between my vertebrae and pushed down on his fist in like he was staking a tent.

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The First Interview: Gervais Minani

As a first post to the Beautiful Day Blog, I’d like to recount my interview with a current member of the granola staff, Gervais. I met him one day at the Amos House kitchen where the granola is made, with the hope of getting to know him a little better. In no time at all, I had his eldest son Jerome on the phone, and had set up a meeting at his family’s home in Providence two days hence. Yikes! With no clue about how to conduct such a sensitive interview about a refugee’s life history, I set out for his house with shaking hands and very little confidence.

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My Friend, the Terrorist: From Rich Rosendahl's Blog

He has olive skin, jet black hair and speaks the same language as the people who carried out the 9/11 attacks.  He is Muslim and his wife wears a scarf that covers all but her face.  He is from a country that most Americans view as an enemy and he now lives in the US.

When he was young, he received an advanced degree and looked forward to a successful career.  He got married and started a family.  And then one day everything started to change.  War had broken out across his homeland.

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A Thank You letter

There were times this year when I wondered if I was a bit nuts.  Not exactly opera-in-the-jungle Fitzcarraldo nuts—but as close as I’d been in a while.  I was sending my second kid off to private college.  At the same time, I was deferring nearly every other paycheck just to keep a non-profit afloat. 

I figured if I were nuts, I must be in good company.   My board of directors—an amazingly accomplished, committed, fun, and generous group of people—must be nuts too.  And the customers buying nearly 100K worth of granola.  Not to mention the grass roots support—individual donors like you—who were giving so generously.

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Celebrate: Eat Cake

Last weekend my wife and I drove our daughter to a camp in up-state new york (Saranac) where she will be volunteering for the month.  Dropping her off was a bittersweet parental moment:  our daughter growing up… enough for a full month away from home—and in a relatively remote location (with a no cellphone policy! ouch!)  We knew she’d be homesick. She might even have a few moments of missing us as much as we miss her.  Plus--sadly--this is just the beginning.  She starts college this fall. 

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We Don't Live in Amarillo

The other day, I spoke with Erneste Ntahondereye, one of the pillars of the 200-plus strong Burundian refugee community that has made Providence home. Erneste complained about all the Burundians moving to Amarillo, Texas, to work in the meat-packing factories. He’d gone to visit recently and was appalled. Parents were working, but refugee children were staying home or dropping out of school. There were minimal social services. He thumped his skull. “Their heads,” he said, “empty, empty!”

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Love, War, Exile

One of my fundamental beliefs is that each person is as valuable as another.  That’s a positive statement!  I’m thankful for the reminder that refugees coming to Providence are no less important than Marc Chagall.  Their emotions are no less deep or meaningful even if they lack the skill (or education or vision or money or English language) to communicate them to others

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