Profound Advice from an 82-Year-Old Refugee

Profound Advice from an 82-Year-Old Refugee
A chance encounter that changed the way I live my life.

I met Barbarou last year, on the street leading to the Swedish Church, in Stockholm. I was travelling through Europe, documenting life lessons of refugees who were displaced primarily by the conflict in Syria, and the various stakeholders involved in their integration in Europe.

Almost instinctively, as soon as I saw Barbarou on the street, I leaned to my interviewee who was walking beside me and asked her if she knew the lady in the wheelchair. To my surprise, she did! And so, at a street corner in Sweden, began one of the most heartwarming conversations (and the quickest one too) that I have ever had with anyone.

“It might be impolite to ask but may I know how old you are?”, I asked hesitatingly.

“82. I have managed to see what 82 looks like. 82”, replied Barbarou in a thick, slow yet warm voice.

“And what has life taught you? What is the single most important thing that you’ve learnt in the last 82 years?” I asked.

“I had a wonderful marriage and a great career. I was working full time ’til I was 66 years old. And we both, my husband and I, made sure that we took time out every once in a while to reflect on the way life was going. If we were giving enough time to things that mattered. To evaluate if we were showing people we loved that we cared. It was like our ritual to sit down every so often and take notes from whatever had happened so far. That’s how you make life beautiful and create more peace in the world. It might sound time consuming but it isn’t.”

Barbarou's wisdom82-year-old Barbarou had some powerful wisdom to share.

She added:

And so my life lesson is: Take out time to reflect on what you can do to make the world a better place.

Such profound piece of wisdom, spoken with such ease and clarity; it astounded me.

Often, amidst my travels and lonesome Saturday nights, I think of what Barbarou and her husband have been practicing–simple ways to heal the world–almost as a way of life rather than a big boo-ha-ha, one-time charity event. There is no ‘Messiah attitude,’ just two humble human beings doing what every person can do.

Putting it into Practice

In the glory of our overburdened world, it might never be possible for us to help everyone. But it is definitely within our means to reach out to someone. Anyone. When you avoid an act of kindness; you not only deprive yourself of an opportunity to serve humanity but also steal from another human being the feeling of gratitude, which not only will comfort him/her but also has the power to touch your spirit.

There is no upper limit to how many people you can be kind to or how many people you can love/help/serve. The numbers run in millions but don’t let that overwhelm you. There is no upper limit but there is a lower limit–one. If you are able to know in your entire lifetime the story of one other human being inside out, and contribute to their story in a way that is all and only goodness, you have done the best anyone could do for that human being.

How can we positively impact others' lives?It is definitely within our means to reach out to someone. Anyone.

Start small. Nothing fancy. Good intention and courage, the size of a mustard seed, is all you need.

As for me, I did take time out to reflect on how I could make the world a better place and guess what? I found it. The firsts have always had more meaning than the half-ways and the endings. And so, I’ve found that making it special for people when they are attempting something for the first time makes their world a better place, even if just for a moment. I’ve decided to be extra nice to people on day one of their job. When I see a sign ‘Opening Day’ of a food truck/cafe, I go in and buy something; doesn’t matter how expensive or cheap. I will mark my presence, hold the space for someone else, and add some comfort to their nervousness.

Remember the Good Vibes

Sometimes good vibes is all that people need to hold onto hope amidst all the fear. Good vibes are bravery medals; and I won’t forget to put one on people who have earned it by attempting something new, that might have held their heart captive for a long, long time.

Celebrate the liberation of dreams. And someday, someone will step in to celebrate your beginnings. Make room for it.

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