I was seeing my friend after many weeks. She’d been away in Kashmir, visiting a Hindu shrine. I knew she’d had a bad experience and I feared it had something to do with the ongoing Hindi-Muslim riots in the region. Little did I guess…
A Journey to remember
She said that she too had worried about the riots prior to the pilgrimage. But once there, what struck her immediately was the fact that all the porters were Muslim men, who transported the Hindu pilgrims on pony backs or carried them on “palkis”, or palanquins, up the long and arduous trek. She looked everywhere for signs of religious animosity that was reported daily, but found none. She rationalized it by considering the monetary benefits for the porters and stayed on guard for subtle signs of hostility. What happened on the return trek would change her views forever.
As they made the dangerous ride back, she and her group got caught in a terrible landslide. The entire ground before them split apart and she desperately watched half her group, including her parents, suddenly disappear from sight. She and a few others were left alone, save for the porters who carried them, injured and distraught.
Beautiful surprises along the way
These men were their saviors from that moment on. They tended to their cuts and bruises, dried their wet clothes in the frigid cold, cooked them meals from their own meager supplies, and sat guard at night so the distressed pilgrims could get a few hours of sleep. But what touched them the most were the words of comfort these men provided them as my friend and her group wondered what had happened to their families, and lived in the anguish of not knowing whether they would ever reunite.
My friend was moved to the core but had no way of reciprocating their kindness. The ponies carrying their belongings had been separated from them in the landslide. There was no way they could pay back the porters. And yet, these men continued to shower their humanity without expecting anything in return, to a people who were distinct from them in religion, race and culture. Perhaps they knew that the common humanity that bound them together was worth far more.
In our ‘civilized’ worlds, where our mental frameworks are tainted by the news we consume and the ‘friends’ we keep, we’ve lost connection to what makes us uniquely human. Living in the valleys and the mountains, and separated from the noise, these porters were untainted by political propagandas and media manipulation. What they saw in others were not the superficial differences we feed everyday, but the common humanity that lies within our human social fabric.
The best surprise of all…finding humanity
I cried when I listened to this story. It was tears of joy yes, and of the emotion of elevation. But there was also something painful about it – the personal realization that I was often blind to the compassion and beauty of the human soul. I made a secret resolution to embrace and announce the acts of humanity I saw around me – acts that often went unreported, in the media, in our shared stories and in the collective memories we create.
In the days since, I’ve come to appreciate that something wonderful happens when we appreciate the other and build human connections. We become resilient in the face of struggle and change. The world we leave behind for our children will only grow in complexity and uncertainty. Our commitment to help them nurture the common thread that binds us across race and culture, across sex and class, across religion and nation is what will provide them with the resilience to grow through the challenges ahead. It’s not a matter of choice, but of the utmost responsibility.
About the Author: Homaira Kabir is a positive psychology coach, a cognitive behavioral therapist and a writer who specializes in the area of self-worth. She helps women break free from the grip of low self-confidence through scientifically backed strategies, programs and courses, so that they show up fully in their relationships and rise to their full potential at work and in life. You can read more about her at www.homairakabir.com