The refugees who shared their stories in Tzu Chi’s documentary series “The Resettled” fled violence in their homeland, then found safe refuge in America, but the one thing they can never escape is memories of their turbulent past. Such recollections can be a burden to bear, and yet as we see in this documentary series, the past is also a spur that drives refugees to work tirelessly to build a better future in a new land. George Tarr, whom we meet in Episode 5, is a perfect example of this.
George “escaped hell on earth” in his native Liberia, and was resettled in New York City at the tender age of seven. Today, he is fiercely focused on completing his college education, then leaving a positive mark on society. When asked to share more of his story for this blog, George revealed how his memories are always close at hand, surging during mundane moments like when seeing the Statue of Liberty from the ferry on his way home to Staten Island.
Such memories don’t simply fade away: instead, they can shape a lifetime, and for George, they ignite and fuel the urge to help others.
And that was just the beginning of George’s interest in humanitarian service.
That’s a vast vision for a young man, just 24. Yet perhaps his memories of the suffering he experienced and witnessed as a young child are key to his current motivation and worldview. In fact, Master Cheng Yen has pointed out in her teachings that seeing suffering can lead us towards the right view, by revealing the blessings we ignore and don’t appreciate in our privileged lives.
We can never replicate the refugee experience ourselves; but through their memories and stories, refugees can be our teachers, reminding us of what we no longer notice or appreciate – the lack of which is the cause of suffering for millions of people around the world. In fact, we can gain wisdom daily from the people who cross our path, with hidden tales to tell and life experience to share. George is keenly aware of this, and also of the sacrifices made by newcomers to America, and the challenges they face.
So let’s support them, because they are the bedrock of this nation, and their stories can change our outlook on life, and help us recognize everything we have to be grateful for. In that discovery of our blessings, our innate altruism may arise, opening the path to the joy of serving others with love. As for refugees, they can always revisit their memories to recharge their inspiration to help others, and even save them from “hell on earth” in some cases.