I've never been much of a risk taker. My father was a military officer, and I grew up believing in following the rules. I've actually done that most of my life, with a few exceptions that I won't go into here.
I've done a fair bit of traveling in the last 15 years. I used to think it was risky to get on an airplane, but I found my fear diminishing as I flew more. My husband Art and I flew to Washington DC on 9/21/01, just a few days after planes were ungrounded after 9/11. It was very, very quiet. Even the subways. Even the monuments. There were no lines. We were careful, but we didn't feel like we were taking risks. It was probably one of the safest times to be in the nation's capital.
In 2005 we went to Vietnam on a journey of reconciliation and healing for Art. We visited numerous places that were quite dangerous 45 years ago: My Lai, the Cu Chi tunnels, Hanoi. But I felt entirely safe. Miserably hot and sweaty, but safe.
Four years ago, in 2013, we went to Kenya. I remember being raised on "darkest Africa", but what I found there was friendly people, beautiful countryside, fabulous animals and some of the finest customer service I've ever experienced. The tented camps were anything but primitive; we felt like honored guests.
In the summer of 2016 I went to Greece, to volunteer in a refugee camp. I returned three times over the next 15 months. For about three months altogether. I spent my days - and many evenings - in what had been an abandoned chemical factory, converted to small rooms housing families, mostly from Afghanistan and mostly Muslim. I walked alone through that camp many times and felt not the slightest fear, whether in daylight or darkness. In that culture, older people are honored. Some of the residents called me Grandmother. With respect.
I got comments from friends on all these trips.
In 2001: "Oh, my God! You are so brave to fly so soon after 9/11. And to Washington!"
In 2005: "Wasn't it scary going to all those places where we were fighting? Did the people look at you with hate?"
In 2013: "Isn't it dangerous in Africa? I'd be afraid of a terrorist attack."
In 2016: "All those refugees! Weren't you afraid there would be someone from ISIS at the camp?"
Nope. I wasn't afraid. It didn't feel like I was taking a risk. Like I said, I've never been much of a risk taker.
Then, this week, I had a conversation with my sister Alyx. She commented that my life is very interesting now, that I'm not afraid to take a risk. I said I didn't feel like I was. She said, "You have a risky heart."
I had never heard that before.
"You go these places and connect with people there. You listen to people tell their stories. When you come home you keep in touch with them on Facebook. Sometimes they keep telling you their stories. You talk about your experiences to groups of people."
I thought, well, yeah.
Then Alyx told me about a friend of hers, a nurse, who'd recently read about the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis. The friend said it had changed how she looks at life. I said, "Tell your friend I will talk to her about the refugees any time, anywhere."
And Alyx said, "See? There's your risky heart again."
So I guess I do take risks. But what's the alternative? Fly home on my American passport and remember from a safe distance? Delete the pictures from my phone? Talk about the weather to refugees waiting in hopes of getting asylum somewhere? Pass up opportunities to share my experiences with friends here at home?
Me and my risky heart.
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