When you want to express the deepest gratitude you've ever felt in your life, or the greatest appreciation, how would you say it? I'd say the words 'May God bless you' might do.
Even if you're not at all religious, this referral to something transcending it all, seems the only thing covering what you feel. It's: all the very best wishes to you. It's perfect love, captured in a sentence.
When I'm sceptical, critical or just self-reflective with honesty, about the
project, of walking along with people on the move, I expect the people on the move to respond to our Walk of Shame team with not only suspicion but even feelings of humiliation. Our team would shamelessly participate in their journey, and we would be the online voyeurs for a week, just watching the 'monkeys', see how they struggle. ('Watching the monkeys' is a Dutch phrase, expressing the imprisonment of the refugees as opposed to the freedom of the visitors.) Our team would behave as mere reporters, and not even making the news, just passively watching, and thereby painfully show that we are safe and they are not. We are the lucky ones, we took the longer straw.
This unequal situation is the truth, but the response of the people our Walk of Shame team meets, appears much different. M., his brother and friend, H. and B, and many others, seem to be grateful that they can finally relate to somebody kind (who is actually from the 'other side'). They have all passed through many, many hells.
It might be like seeing the light of a watchtower, such a relief to discover a warm light in the cold and dark sea they are floating in. Our team doesn't offer political solutions, big stories to the media or instrumental help to resolve the situation. It's kindness what they offer, what we all offer connected to the project from inside our homes: human kindness. And it's reaching them. M. is recording his message on the phone of one of our Walk of Shame people. The man is thanking us.
"Thanks to all your parents and family, anybody who sees my feelings, my problems. Always God bless you. Your people are so so good... Thank you. I don't have words for thanks. Thank you, God bless you."
You can hear the tears in his voice, as well as a smile. That's why 'God bless you' does not sound cliché. It's the deepest gratitude one can feel. M. is thanking not only the persons manifesting the kindness, but -I feel- he is grateful for the very existence of Kindness. Love, goodheartedness, compassion. I am so happy that the Walk of Shame is bringing this about. Our team was actually able to create some humanity.
Now, even the most critical voice in my head, considers this journey more as some kind of a pilgrimage. They Walk of Shame walkers are searching for God somehow, and right there - in their encounters with people, where human-kindness meets human-kindness - they are finding it.