A Story’s End



My friend Hassan walked into Lake Michigan last week. He was found by a stranger. The paramedics were too late. He  had been a soldier in Saddam Hussein’s army before deserting and seeking asylum in a refugee camp. He was given a  choice, in the camp, between three countries: Australia, Canada and the United States. He chose America.

He settled first in Atlanta and then, after losing his car and then his job and apartment, he relocated to Chicago, where  he found shelter at Mercy Housing in Uptown.  He loved his new country. He loved his community. He devoted himself  to uplifting his neighborhood. He volunteered at community events, he attended political rallies and meetings, he took classes, he shared his story.

Hassan was a devoted Catholic and always carried his rosary beads. He thumbed them when he was nervous or upset. He sang heartbreaking melodies in Arabic, if asked.  He cried out, at times, in desperation, asking aloud for a reason to explain his private torment. He dedicated himself to service, but had no money or feelings of redemption. He was desperate for internal peace. The memories of his past, of the war he fought in Iraq, of the violence he was forced to experience lodged at the forefront of his mind and kept him from happiness.

I met Hassan in January, 2013 while interviewing residents of Mercy Housing in Uptown, as part of my project Uptown Stories. He did not hesitate to tell his story with poignant detail. He has been an integral part of Uptown Stories since that day, presenting at our shows, volunteering, attending our classes, brainstorming new ideas, encouraging more residents to participate.

If I saw Hassan on the sidewalk or near the lakefront, he greeted me with joy. His face lit up with a smile, his arms opened for a hug. These chance encounters lit up my day.

I wish I could give Hassan one last hug, and tell him everything will be alright. I wish I could tell him how much he is loved. How much his presence means. I wish I could see his smile.

I thought I would turn this post into a call for action, or awareness, about mental health, PTSD and poverty. I thought I would make political connections and apt arguments for increased funding, increased care, increased compassion. But these are issues to be addressed at another time, when I am less sad. For now, send prayers, thoughts, energy to Hassan and those like him, who are searching for peace.

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