Ghassan and Joseph – two remarkable young men in Damascus, Syria whom I met about 25 years ago – lived in a Home for mentally-challenged adults that we helped establish in the Old Town. When they were small, both had infections with fevers that developed into meningitis, an inflammation in the brain which affected their speech and thought processes. One course of antibiotics could have turned this life-threatening, life-changing infection into a runny nose and a headache for a day. Medicine was around. But there was no money around for antibiotics. They survived. Just.
Then began their odyssey of moving from hospital to hospital. When they became young adults, there were no facilities for mentally challenged youth, so they were housed in psychiatric care centers. All they had was each other. And their bonds were tight! Inseparable.
Mealtimes with Ghassan & Joseph were interesting, to say the least. For them, food was always “gone in 60 seconds.” Faster than Nicholas Cage and those cars! If you did not grab and swallow fast, you only saw the food. Not taste it. Discovering the dignity of a plate that was yours with food that no one else would take from you, was amazing. Discovering the dignity of eating from that plate for 15 minutes (with second helpings!) instead of 1 minute of stuffing hands and mouth before food disappeared forever – what a breakthrough!
Dignity was, I think, always a new thing for them to re-experience each new day. Both men seemed to need to be reminded every day that they were loved, accepted, and safe. I think the only thing solid in their lives was each other. No one needed to remind them of each other. Kind of like being one soul in two bodies.
I began a serious learning curve around those two guys. They were pretty fearless. What more could happen to them? Almost dying as children? Did that. Enduring cold and heat and near starvation most of their lives? Got the T-shirt. Unable to communicate or compete with powerful, verbal people (everybody else around them!)? Got that too! Loving each other unconditionally, sticking together inseparably? Spot on.
Hardships, depravation, mistreatment, moneylessness, shortage, danger, risk, whatever – they stuck to each other and looked out for each other. Always. And one more thing I think about them. Life seemed a matter of grace for these two. When every day you have to have your memory and emotions stirred to re-realize that you are valuable to some other human beings, it is a kind of life that wakes up each day, ready for grace.
This Questscope thing of putting the last, first, is a “grace thing” that runs really deep in us. Ghassan and Joseph were just about as last as anyone could get. It was our part to dignify their dignity by honoring them as human beings. But they dignified our lives by allowing us to sense and experience their resilience, their fearless reliance on grace. And each other.
In many ways, the Questscope story is about enlarging the lesser life-stories of astonishing people – broadening those who know that these two young men, and others like them, suffer, survive, and thrive. And how thriving comes to be.
These are heavy, unprecedented days for all of us. Extreme temps, wind and wildfires, storms and floodwaters, rising prices, shortages, whirlpools of war, threats to food, COVID. I have a T-shirt or two that remind me that I have seen some things, endured some things – that reassure me that I too can wake up to a day ready for grace. Not fear.
The daily grace of knowing that even small amounts of attention, love, and donation can make huge differences in people’s lives replaces fear with hope. Forty years of building skills and experience in crisis-prone, volatile circumstances where Questscope serves, give all of us ability and strength of purpose to offer small solutions inside big problems. Our best “small solutions” are the changed lives of people, who stick together, who help others, who are trained to make a difference. To be that difference.
I like living with hope, without fear. I like living with sticky, close friends. I like knowing how to serve better and better over time. I like doing this thing of hope with you.
We’re in this together. Let’s encourage each other. Let’s live so that any kid with a fever can get that antibiotic pill, have a watchful friend, think about a life linked to grace and a buddy (or two!)
You are amazing. I am amazed by you. We do amazing things together. Thanks!