Sara Rubin here, thinking about how easy it is to feel helpless amid a series of national and global crises. That feeling has a name—crisis fatigue—and the easy response is to give up. When people find meaningful ways to do the opposite, I find it refreshing and inspiring.
So I was delighted when I got a phone call last week from Bryan Kiefer, who moved to Marina from Connecticut five years ago. He and his new community of neighbors decided to do something while most of us watched in horror as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and the US occupation there ended in chaos.
A group of 11 Dunes residents formed a Sponsor Circle, through a program launched by the US State Department and a project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers, Inc., to sponsor an Afghan refugee family. (Speaking of crisis fatigue, the Sponsor Circle program has since expanded to include Ukrainian refugees.)
Kiefer reached out to let me know the refugee family he and 10 others were sponsoring would be arriving any day, and they were soliciting donations. (You can donate through a dedicated fund at Congregation Beth Israel, online or via check, and note “Afghan Family” in your gift.) Sponsors are required to support a refugee family for three months as they get resettled—covering rent, groceries, other bills and transportation.
He and his neighbors were impressed by the generosity of strangers they encountered as they scrambled to prepare for the family’s arrival. They posted on social media in search of a car, and someone donated a 2001 Infiniti. (The car donor, who found them on social media, sent them this note: “You are living out loud the love of god for taking care of the foreigner living in our land.”) Then the shop at Cardinale donated service. Airbnb and a host also donated, setting up the family for a place to live for the month of June. “People are just amazing,” Kiefer says.
I think most people are just looking for the littlest thing they can dobecause we are all trying to find a way to get out of the cycle of crisis fatigue.
When I sat down to interview Kiefer for a column in this week’s paperthe sponsors had just learned the Afghan family would be arriving at SFO that night—but didn’t have a place to stay until June 1. I happened to be leaving town for the holiday weekend and offered them my house as a place to land .
When I returned, they’d left plates of walnuts and raisins, and a bread called rhot. It seemed like too much from a family that fled the Taliban in a hurry with just the clothes on their backs, and had spent months in a refugee camp before arriving in the US I spoke to Monir, the brother of one of the refugees, who had settled in California years earlier and he told me, “It’s part of our culture, we like to give back.
“We have a local saying in Afghanistan, that a poor person’s gift is just a green leaf, a token of appreciation. Hopefully one day, we are able to give back to our community.”
This, I think, is the way out of crisis fatigue—to give a leaf if we have nothing else to give. Then someday, to give something of greater value. We give what we can, when we can.
Bob Brunson is the de facto leader of the sponsor circle in Marina. He is a third-order Franciscan, meaning “I have taken a vow of chastity, poverty and obedience to simplicity and trying to repair the world,” he says.
To illustrate his philosophy, Brunson tells the story of a girl walking down the beach after a storm, with countless sea stars beached. She tosses one at a time back into the water to rescue them. Someone approaches and snidely remarks that there’s simply no way she can save them all—there are thousands. She bends down to pick up another and return it to the sea, and responds: I helped that one.
“We’re not ever going to change the world completely,” he told me, “but we do our part.”
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