Some weeks ago I dined with several ladies – some whom I met for the first time. It was a pleasant evening. One lady’s remark rang in my mind for some time afterwards. Ever since we’d planned an extended family Christmas for 2014, I’d been hugging a delicious thought to myself. Five families from Darwin, Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Whyalla and Adelaide (my two brothers in Australia and their families (and us) would be meeting in a farmhouse in Victoria to spend Christmas together. We’d met in each others’ homes for Christmas before but it was the first time we were meeting in a neutral location; so we had a lot of planning to do. It was all very exciting.
We met in a beautiful green part of the country – where summers are always mild and rolling hills are part of the scene with even gentle Alpacas part of the package. How cool was that! I shared our plans with those ladies – and hoped they would share my joy. They did. But one of the ladies asked me a question which changed things.
‘Why have you decided to live so far apart?’ The question surprised me. Coming from a war torn nation, a Sri Lankan for instance, would never ask such a question. They’d know that the 25 year old war in Sri Lanka sadly tore loving families apart. They’d know what a lot of trauma there has been in our nation’s past. That we who grew up loving our country as a paradise on earth had to regretfully pack our bags one day and head for foreign shores because our choices were very limited.
Many Sri Lankan families have been forced to seek ‘refuge’ overseas in the past few decades so we could bring up our families in peace and stability. Making a decision to leave our loved ones did not come easy. It took me two whole years before I had the courage to tell my Mum and Dad that we were deserting them for greener pastures. It was a very difficult subject to even bring up and I hated to hurt them. I remember how much it tore me apart – and yet I knew it was the right decision for my own little family.
The war in Sri Lanka meant that many days I had to rush to school to pick up my 5 year old son in sheer panic because there were bomb threats at his school and I didn’t know if he would be alive when I got there. My husband and I made the decision to leave our country prayerfully. Now, looking back on 16 blessed years in Australia – we are confident it was the right one. But yes, even after we got here – we had to settle in different places.
My brother and family who were the first to arrive in Australia settled in Sydney. My next brother and sister in law settled in Whyalla where my brother’s job called him. My husband found a job in Adelaide. It’s now one of my favourite places in the world. However, it doesn’t mean I don’t love the country of my birth. My nephew and his wife, both lawyers, decided that Darwin was the place for them. My niece and her husband moved to the Blue Mountains - the perfect location for them. So why are we in different places? Because of lots of complex reasons. It’s hard to explain why in a few sentences.
I answered this lady’s question as best as I could – but sadly, I could see that she just didn’t ‘get it.’ She stared blankly at me – there was no nod of understanding. It made me very sad. I thought to myself ‘How little you know how three quarters of the world live!’ Boat people come to Australia for instance not by choice – they are fleeing for their lives. Others who make choices we don’t understand may do it for reasons you and I can never envisage and would be unable to fathom from our differing perspectives.
How easy it is to judge others! We often hear one or two comments and quickly pass judgment. That lady clearly assumed that we were not a close family – and had chosen to live far from each other. But circumstances of people’s lives are often complex and difficult. We make the best choices we can but they are rarely ideal because we live in an imperfect world. I’m blessed in having a very close extended family. I am sure that lady’s thoughts about us was very different to reality.
I love this saying: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Wendy Mass. It’s true isn’t it? It’s only too easy for us to point fingers at others when we are absolutely ignorant about the struggles in their lives. So as we begin a new year – let us intentionally be kind. There is much about others’ lives that we know nothing of. Let us not be hasty to judge. Instead let’s listen more. Let’s give time to hear them out. Let’s do our best to understand.
And let us always…. be kind!