I visited the Choose Love pop-up store yesterday evening, ahead of its official opening today. I bought five winter coats for children. But all I took away were postcards with the greeting ‘Love Has No Borders’.
It’s not the usual kind of shop. You buy for refugees. Help Refugees, whose planning, effort, teamwork and inspiration Choose Love is, send the products straight from local suppliers near the camps, to the refugees who desperately need them. You can choose from socks, blankets, towels, hot food, winter boots. Or you can simply buy the whole shop – people do – and gift one item of everything it contains.
Around the walls you don’t see adverts, but pictures like the view of the sea with the words of Warsan Shire: ‘No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land’, or the photo of a young girl writing in a notebook with the lines by Arundathi Roy:
Another world is not only possible, but she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.
It wasn’t quiet in the shop. It was packed with people talking, buying, hugging friends; there was loud music.
But in my head and heart it was quiet, for once.
More and more this year, especially these last weeks, I feel as if I’m stuck on a ship from which it is impossible to disembark as it drifts, half piloted, half hapless, on a sea of madness towards a land of little hope. I love that land, which I watch drifting by. I weep for it and wonder how to get back there.
I have Black Friday all down my inbox. I don’t want to be cajoled into consuming as much as I can for as little as I can give. No doubt that’s because I already have far more than I need. No doubt the day brings good to some. But it’s symptomatic of a culture which eats the world and throws the packaging into the sea. It makes me afraid.
Outside the Choose Love store was a homeless man. I put a coin in his paper cup. ‘You’re the first he said,’ gesturing at all the people passing. Ninety-something per cent of the time, I’m also one of those who walk by. ‘Notice me’, the man was saying. ‘Notice’, says the Choose Love shop: notice what really matters.
Choose is a timely word. Beyond the forthcoming selection on the ballot paper is a deeper choice which no one can take away. No outcome can prevent it: we can choose to see, hear, care, reach out a hand, build, plant, tend; we can choose to live sustained and inspired by the vision of a kinder, less unjust and cruel world, a world sustained by integrity, humility, service and love. No incoming government can take that choice away.
In these difficult days, we must help each other make, and stick with, that choice. My favourite interpretation of God’s declaration ‘Let us make man in our image’ belongs to Rebbe Avraham Mordechai of Ger:
God says to each and every person:
“Let’s make of you a true human being, you and I together.”
God has many partners who help make us; who help us find our true humanity.
Thank you to them all.