The following was written by Julie Reece-DeMarco for her new column series, “Finding Kind”. Reece-DeMarco’s series will be published in the third edition of every month.
I was 14 years old the first time I understood the power of perspective. On the trail of a story for a high school paper, I visited an unfamiliar Seattle church, where two El Salvadorian families, denied asylum, were taking sanctuary. Given the situation, I knew I was in for an afternoon of strong politics, righteous anger and complaints. I was wrong.
Their stories were not easy to hear: two young families, awakened in the middle of the night, forced to witness the murders of their husbands, fathers and uncles for the crime of being teachers. With her back turned to her burning house, a mother spoke of her harrowing escape from El Salvador to America with children in tow, replete with unspeakable horrors.
My young mind struggled to understand a political climate which rejected their claims of asylum to preserve relations with a “friendly government”, when similar claims from adjacent Nicaraguan citizens, an “adverse government”, were summarily granted. I expected to hear similar complaints from my new friends.
Instead, I heard about the man who delivered a fresh loaf of bread once a week to their temporary quarters. The woman who came in to teach the children occasional English lessons. Admiration for the country in which they were residing. Gratitude for the church, which provided shelter, and happiness, because these refugees knew their children were safe for one more night.
In the midst of all the sadness of the past year, our three-hour meeting was filled with laughter, hugs and joy. Seated across from this family, whose background, national origin, history and experience was vastly different from my own, I had an epiphany. We had found a way to transcend politics, policies or positions. Focusing on the positive, looking for common ground and listening created a shared humanity. While my article did not change the world, or even the circumstances for the family, it did something important. It validated them and it changed me. I knew, even if I could do nothing else for this family, I could listen and be kind. In that moment, it was what I could offer, and it was enough. I also learned stories and perspective can be life-changing.
Over time, my understanding of these concepts has grown exponentially. As an attorney, I often have the privilege of sharing some of the most intimate and heartbreaking chapters of people’s lives. For over two decades, their experiences have challenged, softened, broken and inspired me. I’ve heard tales from those who rose from poverty, faced discrimination, started non-profit organizations to give back, fled unspeakable circumstances, gracefully faced disappointment with humor, gave everything to help students, spent fortunes to anonymously lift others and found the power to forgive. I am astonished by the transformative power of humor, grace, positivity, selflessness and grit. I’ve learned from some amazing humans.
As an Enumclaw resident for the past 20 years I have served with members of the local community on PTA’s, professional and community boards, the Senior Center, Clothing Bank, schools, retirement facilities and at events. I have cheered at games, lined the Fourth of July and Christmas parade routes, and stood side by side with local residents at community funerals. I have represented school districts, churches, senior centers and under-served populations of all different races, national origins, economic backgrounds and political leanings. My community experiences have cemented my conviction that stories have power. All stories. Sharing our experiences allows us to truly see each other face to face. We become individuals: not causes, positions, adversaries or enemies. My unique experience has placed me in situations where I have been able to see good in the most heinous of circumstances. Kindness in the most heated settings. Selflessness and hope in the most dismal stories. In an era where news is often dark and depressing, I see a world of people who are striving to make things better. Who are desperately looking to Find Kind.
Over the next year, I hope to share some of these stories with you. I want to offer a little light, levity and inspiration as together, we attempt to identify the goodness in our community, seek common ground and “Find Kind” in our lives. Perhaps, as I share a story, it will trigger a memory. Maybe it will start a dialogue. Inspire a thank you letter. Invite someone to record their own story. In a time where news tends to be dark and divisive, I hope, once a month, we can take a page from my El Salvadorian friends and choose to lift our gaze, seek the positive and celebrate the good in our world. Over the next twelve months I look forward to sharing my stories and hearing your stories of those who lift, serve, amuse, inspire, or challenge you to be better as together we celebrate a kinder, gentler world.