Moments define us. In the midst of the chaos and tragedy in Afghanistan there is a moment that has haunted me. In the madness at the gates to the airport sat a man with his back to the wall. In the mania that surrounded them a journalist spoke to this man on camera and asked him what hope he had of reaching a plane. In a very calm voice, he said “I was an interpreter for the British forces, this is my wife and my two children – we hope to find a way to board a flight to freedom”. The journalist acknowledged him with a concerned silence. As they were forced apart by the crush of people the man said “Thank you”. Despite the sheer panic and commotion that surrounded them he found the grace to thank this journalist for giving him time. This man’s calm gratitude, in what is an impossible to imagine situation has remained with me. I wonder if he reached the gate. I wonder where he is now. I would wish him to know that his words and his gravitas left a legacy …
At breakfast one morning a woman on a table next to me reading the reports from Kabul commented “Sad”. Then she turned the page and changed the subject. I keep asking myself “What can I do?” I was on a tour in the south of France at the time that I witnessed the moment on TV and I carried the thought of this and everything else that was happening wherever I travelled, valuing my freedom in a way that I might not otherwise have done. I realised that if this man could choose his words so purposefully and lovingly in such a moment then it was the least that I could do to choose every word I say purposefully and with respect.
We can be so often unaware of the impact of what we say. Words can hurt and maim and words can sooth and inspire. It is our choice. I teach awareness of actions and words and it starts with me. I am eternally grateful for the delegates on my programmes who come together on line from every part of the world. We bypass the frontiers and barriers to learn together. I pray this man and his family and all those he represents find the freedom and honour they deserve.
‘Words create the path on which we walk’ Karen Armstrong. Through the Narrow Gate.
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