Stories-For-Change

HUMANITY by Melissa Abecassis

– Multi-all has coloured much of my life –

 

Where are you form? This is a question that has followed me for as long as I can remember. Of course this is a common question, which perhaps is often answered quite naturally. For me, like many others these days, it is a question, which sparks many other inquiries and awakes deep internal conflicts at times and sometimes truly not understood. It usually goes….  Where are you from?….. Ok, so where are you originally from?…..  So…. Where were you born? Ok, And which country do you prefer?

My story starts with flavours of this dilemma, which has been so very present in my life and is an essential ingredient to where my journey has led me to today.

The first 9 years of my life starts in France followed by 11 years in Sweden (although I was actually born in Sweden); with friends and family in both countries, I adapted to both cultures, languages and behaviours. I couldn’t fully intergrade or identify with either of these cultures. How could I? My full experience belonged in either. I spoke French with my father, who was born in Algeria, Swedish with my mother, whose parents came from Hungary and Poland, and a mixture when they were both present at the dinner table.  My sister refused to speak Swedish our first years in Sweden, my parents communicated to each other in Hebrew when they didn’t want us to understand and my grandmother taught us songs in Jiddish while watching Hungarian TV.  I was surrounded by languages and yet was fluent in non. Multicultural, multilingual, multinational…. Multi-all has coloured much of my life.

Along with this first life changing experience of moving from one country to another came another experience, which also influenced the rest of my life. At the age of 9, my grandmother took me for dinner one night, where she told me her story of surviving Auschwitz. I don’t remember much of this evening. I have glimpses of a corner table with a red candle on it, in an Asian themed restaurant. I remember her telling me about arriving to the camps, being separated from her sister and mother, and the bunk beds she would share with dozens of other women. However, what shocked me the most at that age was that she did not receive food. Here we were, eating in a nice restaurant and free to eat whatever we wanted. I just couldn’t imagine my grandmother collecting breadcrumbs to chunk her cheeks up for the days of inspection.

Around this time I also encountered for the first time a homeless man. Another significant moment of life. I remember my mom explaining to me that he had no home and was asking for money to buy food. My 9-year-old self directly connected this to my grandmothers’ story. In the camps my grandmother was hungry and so was this man.  I couldn’t separate the two. I couldn’t understand why this man didn’t receive food, why was he hungry and in pain when we had experienced the same pain. Why did nobody make sure this didn’t happen again? I asked my mother if I could bring him porridge on my way to school in the mornings and so I did for a while. Apart from all the birds and cats I rescued from the parks (which I am sure my mother loved) and my big plans to free the animals from the pet shops, one could say this was my first social action.

During my time in Sweden, I always felt a bit different to my peers in school, not fully understanding why. Of course this became my internal story, I didn’t truly belong here or there or anywhere….

So with little surprise to anyone around me, at the age of 20 I found my self in England where I spent the next 10 years of my life. Again another culture and language entered my life and quite naturally, seeped into my personality, my dreams, and thoughts and became part of my being. This time, a choice of movement initiated by myself rather than my parents. A leap, in search for belonging.

So now I connected to at least three different cultures. I felt different personalities emerge, depending on which language I communicated in.  I would quite naturally shape shift into the characteristics best fitting to the country I was in, the language I spoke, the parent I visited or the situation I was in.

I became a master of adaptation. Of course my life filled with contrast; I worked in a corporate environment where the words profit and efficiency were most common; simultaneously, I studied psychotherapy whilst also volunteering with refugees and being part of conscious communities while exploring expressing myself in the arts.

Yet I felt separation in myself. I would adapt fully to each environment I put myself in, having a collection of masks I could choose from depending on the scene I was partaking in and as a result never truly bringing my full self anywhere. In a way not truly enabled to see the shape, colour or feeling of my self behind all these masks. As I started discovering the multiple masks I was wearing, I also noticed the other masks that walked along me. The pain of disconnection between all these masks also awoke the strong desire to create more connection.

For many years I felt something not fully right in the way I was living my life. I lacked meaning and purpose. My body told me with many waves of depression and my dreams whispered to me softly to change. For years I did not listen.

Until one day it became unbearable. I had to bring change to my life. I had to honour the 9 year old in me who did not see separation between people and only saw humanity.

So one day came where I made the choice to leave my office job, my flat, my belongings and this so called comfortable life in London. Having a strong connection to Israel through my family, I decided to go there to learn more about peace organisations and how I could play a part in elevating the awareness of kindness and work that was guided from the heart. While also fundamentally still being in search and hope to find this magical place where I belong.

I spent 5 months in the North teaching English in a Bedouin village while also volunteering in a weaving workshop for people with special needs. I met and learned a lot about the conflict in Israel/Palestine and was exposed to many amazing projects, which eventually led me to where I am today.

Since January 2015 I have been part of a project called EcoMe, an independent grassroots peace and study centre in the West Bank. Where Palestinians, Israelis and Internationals can meet, share and learn together. Here many stories are heard with diverse narratives and welcomed with empathy. We live together, work together, pray together and experiment together how to allow conflict to rise in a non-violent way. To allow peace to emerge.

In this year of peace inquiry, my life filled with projects that aim to uncover the human story. My heart opened more than I could imagine. Many narratives in a selection of diverse stories crossed my path. Each person I met played a front stage role in his or her own show and all of them, all of us, together are creating the main performance, the festival of humanity.

My journey of change into social change has led me to discover that one of my deepest pain; the search for belonging, has actually been and is a powerful gift. So my story is changing without being re-written.  My narrative is shifting rhythm and yet in the same tune.

So my dance continues with new teachings and with a soft integration. I no longer need to search for belonging in national identity, I belong in humanity and my choreography of life now has an emphasis on my commitment for the human heart.  As in the end we are equally partaking in this human spectacle.

 – Melissa Abecassis

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