The Germans have a wry saying. “We sent for guest workers, but Menschen came instead.” Meaning that after WWII, the work force of foreigners who came to Germany turned out to be fellow human beings.
I find myself thinking about that saying, more and more. Because the flow of refugees heading this way is huge and overwhelming, and in some ways I am afraid. I love the security and safety of life here, how clean it is, and I’m proud to live in a land with universal health care and functioning mass transit, wonderful street cafés, and (most important of all) the guarantee of personal freedoms and a firm commitment to human rights.
What does this have to do with the hordes of refugees flooding the country? I’m not sure. Maybe nothing at all. I hear from some of my friends, “But, what if Germany becomes Muslim? What if the streets are filled next with full burkas? What if we lose our freedoms as Germans bend over backwards to accommodate the newcomers?”
They’re nameless, faceless. They’re the others, the ones who constitute a vague but growing threat.
One of my great bonds with the man I married is our desire to explore the world together. We’ve taken vacations in moderate Muslim lands. Every trip was wonderful, filled with people with dreams and hopes just like yours and mine. I have a serious disconnect when I try to reconcile the horror of ISIS and repressive regimes with the kindness of the friendly people we met in Egypt. Indonesia. Tunisia. Malaysia. Turkey. Singapore. And the answer, of course, is that they can’t be reconciled. The two have nothing to do with each other.
The people fleeing to Europe want the same things we do: a civilized place to work, and live, and raise their children. It’s a stream of humanity that’s arriving. People with dreams and hopes, just like yours and mine.
Each time I go to massage the refugee M. , I am confronted my own fear of the unknown foreign, and I do it all through the dimension of touch.
We have no language in common. I’m not only working without any knowledge of her history; we can’t even talk directly. Her daughter remains in the room the entire time to translate for her into German.
As a therapist my hands know their work; I believe I’m more than capable to treat her PTSD. But the person-to-person connection…. These hours of offering therapy have changed my understanding of the human dimension.
These are the hardest sessions I’ve ever attempted.
NOTES:  To respect the privacy of all persons involved I have changed the names and use initials only. Part 5 to follow.