We’ve heard the stories of refugees who leave war-torn countries in search of a peaceful place in which to live. They yearn for jobs, food, and a relief from fear. They pack what belongings they can carry, and walk mile after mile, experiencing countless hardships along the way.
Our hearts go out to them, even when there is little we can do to offer comfort.
What about the refugees closer to home? The shopping-cart people who get up every morning and begin pushing up and down streets, hoping to find someplace out of the weather that also offers some degree of privacy.
The homeless man, sound asleep leaning against a shopkeeper’s wall in downtown San Francisco. If he’s lucky, he has pieces of cardboard on which to lie and a blanket as cover. He is dirty, ragged and hungry.
Standing on many corners are street beggars. Signs in hand, they speak of wanting a few cents to buy a meal, a job that can give them money for a place to stay for at least one night, or maybe medicine for a sick child.
It is easy to write stories in which the characters are comfortable in fancy home, in tree-lined neighborhoods, with two working parents and new cars in the drive.
It is much more challenging to speak for the speechless, to tell their stories with compassion and understanding.
Your task is to choose a refugee and place her in a scene. Give her a voice. Listen to her heart. Interact with her, in some way, either in first person or as an omniscient narrator.
Wake up with her in the morning, walk about with her in the day, sleep with her at night. Eat meals with her. Follow her as she searches for a bathroom in which to wash up. Be with her, not as a sympathetic ear, but as an equal. Walk in her shoes, even if just for one day.
Good luck with this one.