2021
August
31
Tuesday

Monitor Daily Podcast

August 31, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Simple isn’t always best

April Austin
Weekly Deputy Editor, Books Editor

Every so often an author comes along at the right moment, with just the right message. Journalist Amanda Ripley, whose latest book is “High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out,” shared insights with writers and editors at a recent meeting of the Monitor staff book club. Her ideas about how to transform the approach to conflict, whether at the level of interpersonal disagreements or global strife, resonate at the Monitor because they parallel what we try to do each day.  

Ms. Ripley talks about “complicating the narrative,” by which she means producing stories that reflect the complexities of a situation and provide a nuanced view. In high conflict, people frequently devolve into two camps, and tend to vilify the other side. Generalizations can lead to name-calling, which leads to dehumanization and sometimes violence. Instead, Ms. Ripley asks, how can journalists give readers a better understanding of the complexities and so avoid making the polarization worse? 

One way to complicate the narrative is to answer questions such as: Why do the people in this group behave the way they do? What is the disagreement really about? Ms. Ripley calls this discovering the “understory.” She adds that, when you look deeper, the underlying causes often boil down to feelings of fear and humiliation. Interestingly, she points to divorce mediation as a model for working through intense conflict, whether the tension is between people or countries. 

Anger can be a hopeful sign that “people want the other side to be better,” she says. But once contempt enters the picture, the job of mediation becomes much more difficult. Like a divorcing couple who have to think about the children’s well-being, “We have to live with each other; that’s the No. 1 thing we have to get our heads around,” says Ms. Ripley. 

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A deeper look

Struggle and resilience: Lessons from the class of 2021

Three Colorado students confronted academic pressures, family needs, and questions about college during a fraught final year of high school. But they adapted in ways that suggest COVID-19 won’t define their futures.

April
Courtesy of Mana Setayesh
Mana Setayesh (left) and her friends show off their decorated caps before graduation in Lafayette, Colorado, in May 2021.

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As a new school year begins, pandemic still in tow, the story of three Colorado students from the class of 2021 offers a glimpse into how a generation of high schoolers survived one of the most unusual moments in American education.

There were countless struggles. But hope, it becomes evident, is not lost. 

Mana Setayesh, a student at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, tallied the negatives of her pandemic-upended senior year: missing out on sports and homecoming. She also tallied her gains: increased independence, and simultaneously, more time spent with her family.

Jaden Huynh, who had plans to graduate early from Arvada West High School, outside Denver, missed classes taking care of her family – but was still able to eke out all the credits she needed.

Michael Liao, one of Mana’s classmates, finished out the year online – not his preference, as his classmates started returning in the spring. But he performed in one last theater production in person.

“Life is mostly what you make of it and how you react to it,” he says. “As much as all of us would hope to erase the pandemic, we can’t. We all tried our best, and we’re getting close to the end, and that’s all really anyone can ask of us.”

Struggle and resilience: Lessons from the class of 2021

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When sports practices were abruptly canceled at his high school on March 12, 2020, Michael Liao, then a junior, started to worry how much the pandemic would affect his school – and particularly his upcoming theater performance. The next morning, he woke to an email announcing that in-person classes would be canceled for the foreseeable future.

By mid-April, the world had changed.

Jaden Huynh, then a sophomore at Arvada West High School in a suburb northwest of Denver, was confronting the new reality, too. One night she circled the dinner table plating goi – a Vietnamese salad – and spring rolls for her family’s Easter dinner and silently counted all the empty seats for cousins and extended relatives who weren’t coming.

Colorado’s lockdown had been in place for months when Michael’s classmate, Mana Setayesh, a rising senior at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, a half-hour north of Denver, sat stunned when her doctor told her a high school swimming star had come down with COVID-19 and could no longer attend college. Would her future get derailed as well?

All three planned to graduate at the end of the 2020-21 school year. But as the pandemic raged, unabated, each quietly realized their senior year could end far differently than they expected. The months of disruption continued for Michael, Jaden, Mana, and the 3.7 million other teenagers preparing for a triumphant final year of high school in the United States. 

“You don’t get a second chance at 12th grade,” Michael says. “This is it. This is the hand we were dealt.”

Stuck at home, these students saw their future threatened by an unpredictable and deadly virus that upended the economy and possibly their hopes for college. They watched as the police killing of a Black man in Minneapolis reignited the country’s fight for racial and social justice. And they lived through perhaps the most divisive presidential battle in American history. This chaotic year is now the foundation for these young people’s transition to adulthood.

As a new school year begins – alongside a fourth wave of the pandemic – the story of these three Denver-area students offers a glimpse into how well a generation of high schoolers in the U.S. survived one of the most unusual moments in American education.

COVID-19 confronted them with an unprecedented set of challenges and travails in their most important and formative year in school. But, thanks in part to efforts by their schools to keep them from being neglected, the three youths persevered and adapted, defying the common perception that the pandemic might forever map their futures or create a lost generation of students.

Jake Holschuh/The Hechinger Report
“I was faced with having to step up for my family or for my education, and I chose my family.” – Jaden Huynh, who graduated in 2021, a year early, from a high school in suburban Denver. She struggled to balance school and duties at home during the pandemic.

In late October 2020, Jaden walked through Arvada West on one of the two days each week she attended classes in person as part of the school’s hybrid schedule.

Public health officials had opened an investigation into her school for a COVID-19 outbreak just days earlier, but the school was still open and Jaden was meeting her English teacher for help with an essay. The conversation soon turned, as it often did with this teacher, to Jaden’s hope of graduating a year early. 

The teenager left feeling her teacher was “super against” her goal. “Graduating early during a pandemic is going to be incredibly difficult,” Jaden says. “It threw a huge fork into my plans.”

She had just applied for a full-ride scholarship that she hoped would start her on the long path to becoming a neurosurgeon. The scholarship, from the Boettcher Foundation, a Denver-based philanthropy, would pay her way to a university in Colorado, something her family could not afford.

Jaden was ready to start her adult life, one she hoped would allow her to support her family. Her father lost work during the pandemic, putting the family of 14 back on food stamps and Medicaid. Jaden is the third oldest in her family and dotes on her many younger siblings, some of whom are adopted. 

But learning from home was hard, and her slipping grades threatened her plans.

“I set deadlines for myself, but it’s hard with how many people I live with,” Jaden said in early November. “You can’t ask teachers for a later due date. They’re slammed, too.”

She had enrolled in nine classes to earn all the necessary credits to graduate by May. Even with a personal internet connection provided by the school, Jaden grew frustrated with spotty Wi-Fi during remote classes. A chemistry teacher warned that missing Zoom classes, for any reason, would result in missing credit. Meeting these requirements became even harder, isolated from the people she relied on for support. Jaden, who identifies as Hispanic, Indigenous, and Vietnamese, especially missed her mentors.

Across the U.S., learning loss during the pandemic hit children living in poverty and students of color particularly hard. Early data suggested about a third of low-income, Black, and Hispanic students did not regularly log into online instruction. Even though she had her own challenges with remote learning, Jaden was not ready to give up.

“When I commit to something, I commit, but I’m also bound to fail at times,” she says. On her college essays, she underscored the value of resilience. One began, “I’m really good at failing.” 

Rebounding from small failures, she believed, would lead to long-term success, no matter what the challenges. “I really have to kick up and dig in and dig deep if I really want this,” she says.

Jake Holschuh/The Hechinger Report
“It’s a pretty big deal. Your whole life builds up to this point, and then it’s just nonexistent.” – Mana Setayesh, who graduated from a charter school in Lafayette, Colorado, in May 2021. She spent her entire senior year learning remotely.

About 20 minutes away, in Boulder, Mana was also thinking about college.

She had entered Peak to Peak, a college prep program, as a sixth grader and never doubted her plans to apply to top-tier schools after graduation. But from her bedroom – decorated with new art she painted during the lockdown and a puzzle poster of the periodic table – Mana began rethinking her timing.

Older friends in college shared grim stories of dorm life during a pandemic. One remained stuck in her room alone, with only three other people on the same floor and classes completely online. Prepackaged food was delivered to another friend in a similar setup.

“They’re basically paying money to sit in a tiny square room, not allowed to come out, and no one to talk to,” Mana says. “Wouldn’t it be better to stay at home with my family?”

At home, Mana tested recipes from Iran, her parents’ home country, watched movies outdoors with friends, and spent time on her bed scrolling through news reports about the record number of applications to, and record low acceptance rates at, elite colleges. Many incoming freshmen had delayed their enrollment for a year, and some universities stopped requiring the ACT or SAT for admission. 

“You don’t want to get your hopes up, especially this year,” Mana says. After years of hard work aimed at being academically prepared for a school like Stanford University, her first choice, it suddenly felt like “there was just no way I was getting in.” 

Michael, the oldest son of Chinese immigrants, was also busy with college and scholarship applications. He debated whether to prioritize liberal arts schools, where he could major in the humanities, or more research-focused universities, which his father preferred. At least the applications offered a distraction from what he described as the “collective national trauma” of the pandemic.

Of the 56 schools in the Boulder Valley School District, Peak to Peak, where Michael and Mana were enrolled, had only resumed in-person learning for kindergartners and kept all other students in remote instruction. Michael tried to find humor and happiness in the absurdity of it all: Of gym class on Zoom – “Oh, cool, I get to watch myself work out now.” Of teachers’ pet animal cameos – “A shot of dopamine.” 

Michael sat alone in his room one day in October and recorded a violin piece. “Ugh, this is terrible,” he thought as he submitted the clip for class. The final version of it – included in a performance his teacher put together from student submissions – made him feel better. 

He wasn’t as bad as he thought, he decided, and “the comfort I took in helping to create a small ensemble piece, regardless of how terrible it was performed, was not insignificant.” 

Jake Holschuh/The Hechinger Report
“You don’t get a second chance at 12th grade. This is it. This is the hand we were dealt.” – Michael Liao, who graduated from a charter school in Lafayette, Colorado, this spring. He missed playing the violin in orchestra while remote learning.

During a second-quarter break, the teacher offered optional Zoom sessions on Fridays, so students wouldn’t get rusty with their music. Michael was the only one to show.

“This is not what anyone asked for, but we’re still here, and we’re all working to make sure it’s as pain-free as it can be,” he says of the pandemic, determined at that point in the fall to maintain his optimism. 

But as winter set in, Michael began to feel lonely, like many students. In a national poll, nearly three-quarters of the more than 2,400 high schoolers surveyed reported a poor or declining sense of mental health, with disproportionately high numbers of female and Hispanic students. Many young people also struggled with food insecurity. 

More than a year into the pandemic, the Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a pediatric mental health state of emergency, as youth behavioral visits to the medical system’s emergency rooms increased more than 70% over early 2019.

Mana struggled with health issues of her own. In December 2019, as news first started trickling in from China about a new, highly infectious virus, Mana had wakened with sudden hearing loss in her left ear. Her doctors were unable to explain why, and the experts her mother consulted around the globe weren’t helpful. 

Even with all the distractions, Mana remained focused on one thing: getting into college. On Dec. 11, in between errands she was running for her quarantined grandmother, an email arrived from Stanford University.

It was a rejection letter.

“With college, I have no gut feeling of where I’m going,” she said a few days later. But her hearing had improved some, which made her feel less pressured about the rejection. “Being in the present and being isolated made me realize that Stanford was everyone else’s dream for me. ... I knew this wasn’t meant for me, but I had no idea what else was. That’s pretty scary.”

Her whole future seemed hazy. And after losing out on key senior milestones such as homecoming, powderpuff football, and a senior hike she had anticipated since sixth grade, Mana continued to wonder whether taking a gap year would be best.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” she says. “Your whole life builds up to this point, and then it’s just nonexistent.”

Jake Holschuh/The Hechinger Report
Jaden Huynh plans to study neurosurgery to help support her family of 14. She worked as a back-up mom during the pandemic to care for her younger siblings.

Even as record-setting warmth melted most of the snow during the holidays, the winter surge of coronavirus cases in Colorado kept Jaden at home for her 17th birthday, on New Year’s Day.

Jaden’s family typically celebrates with some Ecuadorian friends, who burn in effigy a representation of something bad (or annoying) from the old year. Eating vanilla cake in her room that night, Jaden watched shaky Zoom video of her friends setting fire to an effigy of COVID-19.

“That’s the entity that we would be better off without,” Jaden says.

A couple of weeks later, her mother was sidelined by health issues, forcing Jaden to put school aside to help her family.

Jaden began to set her alarm for about 4 o’clock each morning. She’d spend a few pre-dawn hours on homework before waking her younger siblings and preparing breakfasts of cereal, pancakes, or ramen noodles. At night, she cajoled the kids into showers before tackling more homework and finally collapsing into bed herself before 11. 

Like many other teenagers last year, Jaden dutifully accepted the role of backup parent, even as her frequent absences and missing assignments further threatened her early graduation plans.

“I was faced with having to step up for my family or for my education, and I chose my family,” Jaden says.

Michael was also confronted with family issues, but it was tempered by some good news. He had received early acceptances from three colleges. 

The congratulatory letters included an initial estimate of his financial aid awards. The offer of full-ride scholarships from Centre College, a private liberal arts school in Kentucky, and the University of Texas at Dallas left Michael pleased with himself. “It’s a good mood booster, when you’re starting to feel burned out,” he said in December.

Still, Michael was struggling getting work done. In early January, he watched the storming of the U.S. Capitol on TV with his family. “I’m so tired of historical things happening,” he says.

Courtesy of Michael Liao
During the pandemic, Michael Liao finished high school with a schedule consisting entirely of remote classes, including physical education. In December, he used resistance bands in place of weights training for PE.

Stresses were building at home. His father had a health condition that made it risky to interact with anyone outside their family. In between driving his mother to work at the university and picking her up later in the day, Michael busied himself with chores at his family’s rental property: shoveling the driveway, fixing a broken toilet, and shutting off all the outdoor plumbing so the pipes wouldn’t burst. 

“The burnout is real,” he said in February. “I haven’t really socialized ever since cases started rising again.”

One morning, he got a text message from a friend, asking him to visit the coffee shop where the friend worked. Michael’s parents had reservations, but he hadn’t seen his friend since July, during a physically distanced farewell for theater members heading to college.

Lugging hefty textbooks, Michael nervously walked into the cafe. He ordered a small drink and lifted his mask to take quick sips while eavesdropping on the surrounding customers.

“It was mostly about basking in the presence of other people,” Michael says. “There’s something about that ambience that I didn’t know I missed.” He also got a hug from his friend – an unexpected embrace in the parking lot – “which is wild, considering I don’t do that very often, even in normal times.”

The isolation, he realized later, had changed him: “I have been incredibly touch-starved.”

In a March 2021 survey from the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, about three-quarters of parents said the pandemic had a negative impact on their teens’ ability to interact with friends. That held true for Michael, but therapy helped.

“I find it hard to be vulnerable, and this simple act of giving a hug recognizes that a person means something to you,” he says. 

In April, Jaden waited to learn if she had won the full-ride scholarship. Then, both her mother and father tested positive for COVID-19. Jaden was back to playing backup mom.

“I can’t afford to be a kid anymore,” she says. “I have obligations and people I need to support. I don’t have time to hang out with friends or go to a dance.”

After her parents’ recovery, Jaden sat on her bed and tried to complete yet another overdue English essay. The constant patter of her younger sister running up and down the stairs – relaying reminders from their mother that Jaden needed to scrub the kitchen counters – tested her patience.

By that point, she had considered staying at a friend’s house for some peace and quiet. Her mother said no, and Jaden began to lose faith that she could ever improve her failing grades. That morning, she’d had enough.

“I couldn’t stop yelling,” she says. “I needed to just be left alone. I felt so sick. I could never choose school over family, but school used to be everything to me.”

Jake Holschuh/The Hechinger Report
Mana Setayesh refined her baking skills during the pandemic and tried many recipes from Iran, her parents' native country. She wonders if her college dorm will have the necessary kitchen equipment for her to continue baking.

Mana and her parents were fully vaccinated by April. In between hugging friends for the first time in 12 months and planning for actual college visits, Mana allowed herself to start imagining a future that looked more like the one she’d had in mind for years.

The arrival of acceptance letters from five schools – mostly her backup choices – made that seem even more likely.

“I want to do every single thing I can possibly do,” Mana says. “I just want to get out, not in a bad way. I just need to explore and make up for lost time.”

Mana visited three preferred schools in California. Peak to Peak announced tentative plans for an actual prom – the state would limit students to dancing in pods of 10 people or fewer – and an outdoor graduation ceremony.

Mana created a balance sheet to account for her final year of high school. Among the losses: Volleyball tournaments. Homecoming. A final ski season with her dad. Gains: Increased independence. A stronger sense of self. More time with her family.

“We had meals together every single day. We used to only do that on weekends,” Mana says. “It’s been a blessing especially because it’s my last year at home. A lot of times, most students pack their last year and it’s so busy and hectic, they lose out on that.”

In the final quarter of school, Peak to Peak opened its doors to in-person learning again, and Michael’s father also got his first shot. He traveled to California to visit Michael’s older sister, who lives and works there. While he was out of town, Michael’s mother decided to send Michael and his brothers back to class.

“I haven’t seen someone sit next to me for a very long time. It’s glorious,” Michael says of that first week. 

But after dinner one evening, Michael’s father called. He demanded to know why he went back to school. After a conversation with his mother, the mandate was set: Michael and his brothers would finish the year from home.

Michael had one lifeline that his brothers didn’t: Theater rehearsals had started again, and he was allowed to go.

For a two-night, outdoor performance of “Matilda the Musical,” the cast started each rehearsal in a big circle. Reciting tongue twisters in a British accent made Michael chuckle during the vocal warmups, and transparent face masks made it easier to see his fellow actors’ smiles. 

Before the closing performance, he and the other seniors gathered for the “tradition of shroses” – each held a bundle of fake roses for each show they had participated in since freshman year. Michael, with “a dinky four flowers,” fought back tears as his castmates gushed about their adopted family.

“They’re all kind of wacky, and I mean that in the most endearing way,” he says. “We’re all a group of misfits.” Getting back to theater was a benchmark for Michael. “Before, I was unhappy. ... At least now I’m sad with friends,” he jokes.

In May, Jaden got the go-ahead to finish her remaining credits over the summer and graduate a year early as planned. She also received a full scholarship and decided to attend the University of Colorado Denver. She didn’t walk with graduating seniors at Arvada West, which was fine. But Jaden was sorry she’d missed the last chance to see her teachers and counselors. 

“I spent this entire year in a constant state of I-don’t-knows,” she says. “Obstacles were thrown at me left and right, and I took on more responsibility than I thought I could bear.”

At least she feels ready for college. “Putting a lot on yourself is super difficult, but not impossible, if you involve other people,” Jaden says. “The more I rely on others, the less difficult a load becomes.”

At CU Denver, she plans to take advantage of free therapy available for students in her dorm and a recording studio where she can pair music to her notes from class. 

“I’m excited – and so terrified,” she says.

Early in May, Mana sat on the living room couch and opened her phone, expecting bad news. “Let’s just open them,” she told her mother of the application status updates from the two Ivy League schools at the top of her list. “If I didn’t get in, it’s fine. Let’s move on.”

She got in.

“We called my dad over and he was like, ‘What! You got in?’ It was just a lot of excitement and surprise.” Mana chose Cornell University, where she plans to study biotechnology. 

After enjoying family trips to Dallas and San Francisco over the summer, Mana flew to New York City with her parents and grandmother before moving to Ithaca, New York, for her first day of classes at Cornell. The university is requiring face masks and vaccinations for all students.

“Things will be different from how they used to be, and that is OK,” she says. “I am trying to stay optimistic.”

Michael spent part of his summer sweating in the Danville, Kentucky, sun as he helped restore parks there for an orientation with Centre College.

He worried about leaving his family, especially after the wave of anti-Asian hate crimes. But classes – including a course in Mandarin – began in late August. And like Jaden and Mana, he feels ready.

“Life is mostly what you make of it and how you react to it,” Michael says. “As much as all of us would hope to erase the pandemic, we can’t. We all tried our best, and we’re getting close to the end, and that’s all really anyone can ask of us.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

With toasters and empathy, former refugees welcome Afghans to US

When people come to an unfamiliar country – as is now happening with thousands of Afghan refugees – they need not just material support but also hope and encouragement. 

April

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As she heard of a tide of refugees seeking to come to the United States from Afghanistan, Mirriam Seddiq decided she wanted to help. Having come from Afghanistan herself as a child, she created an Amazon wish list last week with everything she thought someone starting over would need: towels, underwear, children’s clothing, and more.

Ms. Seddiq, a criminal defense and immigration lawyer from northern Virginia, was overwhelmed at what happened when she tweeted out the wish list. Within 24 hours more than 80 Amazon boxes arrived at her door. The next day 170 boxes arrived. Then 260. 

“I’m positively floored by the kindness,” says Ms. Seddiq, who is in the process of forming a nonprofit organization to continue the work.

Such efforts by both nonprofits and individuals are helping people like Abid, who arrived in the U.S. in July and hopes to find work in an unfamiliar nation. As the new arrivals are welcomed by former refugees and others, they need simple encouragement as well as things like clothing and towels. Even amid his job search, Abid himself takes time to join a welcome effort for other new arrivals at Dulles Airport.

With toasters and empathy, former refugees welcome Afghans to US

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Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor
From left, Arshad Mehmood, the D.C. and Virginia coordinator for ICNA Relief; Akmal Hussain, local food pantry coordinator for ICNA; and Driss Rarhai, a dedicated volunteer, prepare boxes of backpacks to be delivered to newly arrived Afghan refugees at Dulles International Airport, Aug. 26, 2021.

For many Americans, it’s difficult to imagine what the tens of thousands of newly arrived Afghan refugees are going through. 

But Arshad Mehmood doesn’t have to imagine. He knows. Only seven years ago, Mr. Mehmood was in their shoes, fleeing Pakistan. He describes being kidnapped and tortured by the Taliban for being a local politician. 

Now, as the regional coordinator for a national nonprofit, Mr. Mehmood as well as his team in northern Virginia, many of whom are refugees themselves, is helping these new arrivals with everything from finding apartments to translating school enrollment forms from English to Pashto. They have assisted more than 80 Afghan families over the past three months and expect to help almost 200 by the end of the year.

And while this practical aid is important, says Mr. Mehmood, it’s not what newly evacuated Afghan allies need most right now. That would be encouragement and empathy. And here in Virginia, Afghans are finding this support in local communities – especially from the refugees who came before them.

“English was my third language, but I did it. We live a good life here,” says Mr. Mehmood. His wife, who is a manager at T.J. Maxx, feels welcomed to wear her hijab on the job. His daughter will start her first year of college this fall, and his son is a defensive star on his American football team. 

“We have to tell them these successful stories,” says Mr. Mehmood. “That’s what they need to hear right now.” 

There has also been an outpouring of support from U.S. citizens in northern Virginia, with mosques and temporary holding locations posting requests on social media for locals to stop bringing donations after they ran out of room. “We are at full capacity,” reads a hot pink poster board outside the Mustafa Center, an Islamic community center in Annandale, Virginia, which raised almost $30,000 for displaced families during August. 

At the Lutheran Social Services office in Annandale, one of the three agencies in northern Virginia working with the State Department to resettle Afghan refugees, a long hallway overflows with donation items. Several young families walk between cardboard boxes filled with toothpaste, deodorant, and feminine products.

Kelsey Bhandari, a case manager with Lutheran Social Services, says they’ve fielded more than 2,000 volunteer requests since early August.

“Right now we’ve been able to meet their material needs really well,” says Ms. Bhandari. “So being welcoming neighbors is the most important thing we need right now from the community.”

“We are all working around the clock”

Local resettlement professionals like Kristyn Peck, CEO of the Lutheran Social Services national capital branch, say the scale and timeline of current efforts is unlike anything they’ve experienced. It wasn’t until the last week of July that Ms. Peck and her team were informed that President Joe Biden would begin mass evacuations on July 31.

“It was like, ‘Tomorrow. Be ready.’ Usually we have more time,” says Ms. Peck. “But there was no hesitation. We were like, ‘Absolutely.’”

By the end of September, Ms. Peck’s organization is projected to have helped more than 1,000 Afghans with everything from housing, to job placement, to enrolling in English as a second language classes.

“We are all working around the clock,” says Ms. Peck. 

Although President Biden had long signaled U.S. intentions to withdraw from Afghanistan, the chaotic final phase has been criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike who fear it didn’t give the U.S. military ample time to evacuate all of its Afghan allies: locals who have worked alongside American troops for the past two decades. The allies who remain in the country are likely targets of the Taliban – especially those who still hold Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), which are given to Afghans employed by the United States. 

Courtesy of Mirriam Seddiq
Mirriam Seddiq, a lawyer from northern Virginia, started an Amazon wish list last week for items that Afghan refugees might need, such as towels, bedding, kitchen supplies, and clothing. Within a week, more than 1,000 packages of goods had arrived at her home.

More than 122,000 people have been airlifted out of Afghanistan since Aug. 14, but the Biden administration has not clarified what share of that figure is Afghans, nor has it said how many allies remain in Afghanistan. But estimates suggest 100,000 to 300,000 allies may be left behind.

“My friends, they have passports and visas but they cannot fly to the U.S.,” says Sayed, who recently arrived in Virginia with his wife and young son. 

Sayed, whose real name has been withheld for safety reasons, learned his SIV was approved on July 10 and went into hiding – per the U.S. embassy’s instruction – until his flight left for Virginia’s Dulles Airport one week later. It wasn’t until he was waiting at his gate at the Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul with his wife and son that he could tell his extended family they were leaving Afghanistan forever.

Even now, safely on American soil in a Washington suburb with his wife and son playing beside him, Sayed still lives in fear. He’s afraid he put his family back home in danger because he helped the U.S., and he’s afraid that he won’t be able to make a life here in America for his wife and son. He and his wife owned their own small business in Afghanistan. Now they are struggling to find jobs. They can’t find a car they can afford, and he has to figure out how to enroll his son, who speaks little English, in school. 

“I didn’t dream about this. I dreamed about a new Afghanistan that we worked on for 20 years,” he says. “But now it’s gone in the blink of an eye. Now I have to forget about Afghanistan. It is gone.”

With the help of his case manager at Lutheran Social Services, he is making progress. He is at its Annandale office picking up a pile of donated goods such as a toaster, paper towels, lamps, and a teakettle. After living with a nearby relative since July, he and his family moved into their own apartment this week. 

A tweet brings tide of help

After arriving at Dulles, Afghan refugees go to U.S. military bases for health exams and paperwork. They will then be connected with a partner resettlement organization such as Lutheran Social Services, which will help them with housing.

These organizations provide invaluable services, say advocates, but they can only do so much. New arrivals rely on good Samaritans like Mirriam Seddiq to fill in the gaps. 

Ms. Seddiq, a criminal defense and immigration lawyer from northern Virginia, created an Amazon wish list last week with everything she thought someone starting over would need: towels, underwear, children’s clothing, and more. She tweeted out a link to her wish list page, which then got retweeted by larger accounts, and 24 hours later more than 80 Amazon boxes arrived at her door. The next day 170 boxes arrived. Then 260. She had started storing the donations in her garage, but soon had to move to two storage units. 

In just a few days, Ms. Seddiq has collected $18,000 in donations and more than 1,000 boxes from Amazon. 

“We are supposed to have words for our feelings, but I don’t think I do,” says Ms. Seddiq, who came to the U.S. from Afghanistan as a toddler. “I’m horrified and devastated, but at the same time I’m positively floored by the kindness of these people.”

After seeing the need – and gratitude – of refugees who have taken what they need from the storage units, Ms. Seddiq hopes to continue this work. She is completing paperwork to be recognized as a nonprofit organization called Komak, which means “help” in Pashto. And Ms. Seddiq already has at least two dozen organizers – all of them the children of Afghan refugees. 

“The Muslim community is ready to help these families,” says Mr. Mehmood. “We have families offering rooms, food, everything.” 

Mr. Mehmood interrupts himself to call a man named Abid, an Afghan refugee who arrived in July. The two men talk about the next steps in a job search: Abid was a skilled construction worker in Afghanistan, and Mr. Mehmood is helping him find work in America. 

But before hanging up, Abid reminds Mr. Mehmood to tell him about any upcoming volunteer opportunities to help the newest refugees. Mr. Mehmood tells Abid he is about to drive to Dulles with 50 backpacks for the children who have just landed. Abid says he would love to come and help, but he doesn’t have a car. 

“Don’t worry,” says Mr. Mehmood. “I’ll pick you up.”

The Explainer

Pro-Trump lawyers who pushed fraud cases face serious consequences

Accountability for lawyers can play a role in safeguarding democracy. A federal judge in Michigan last week sanctioned the “Kraken” lawyers for wasting the court’s time with baseless election fraud claims. 

April

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The “Kraken” lawsuits, named after a mythical giant sea creature, pushed baseless claims of voter fraud in an effort to overturn 2020 presidential election results in four key states. All were quickly rejected by courts.

Now the pro-Trump lawyers who filed them following November’s vote are starting to face legal consequences for their actions. Last week, a federal judge in Michigan ordered sanctions against Sidney Powell, L. Lin Wood, and seven other attorneys for what she called a “historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.”

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker excoriated the “Kraken” legal team for its Michigan suit, which she described as a mélange of faulty reasoning, unsupported claims, and fantastical conspiracy theories. 

The suit was filed in bad faith, the judge concluded.

“This case was never about fraud,” she wrote in her 110-page ruling. “It was about undermining the people’s faith in democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so.”

Judge Parker ordered the lawyers to pay defendants’ legal costs and each take 12 hours of continuing legal education on election law and pleading standards. They could also face discipline or even disbarment from states where they are licensed to practice. 

Pro-Trump lawyers who pushed fraud cases face serious consequences

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Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Attorney Sidney Powell leaves federal court in Washington on June 24, 2021. A federal judge in Michigan recently ordered sanctions against Ms. Powell and other pro-Trump lawyers for a lawsuit they filed last year challenging that state's election results.

The “Kraken” lawsuits, named after a mythical giant sea creature, pushed baseless claims of voter fraud in an effort to overturn 2020 presidential election results in four key states. All were quickly rejected by courts.

Now the pro-Trump lawyers who filed them following November’s vote are starting to face legal consequences for their actions. Last week, a federal judge in Michigan ordered sanctions against Sidney Powell, L. Lin Wood, and seven other attorneys for what she called an “historic and profound abuse of the judicial process.”

U.S. District Judge Linda Parker excoriated the “Kraken” legal team for its Michigan suit, which she described as a mélange of faulty reasoning, unsupported claims, and fantastical conspiracy theories. 

The suit was filed in bad faith, the judge concluded.

“This case was never about fraud,” she wrote in her 110-page ruling. “It was about undermining the people’s faith in democracy and debasing the judicial process to do so.”

What did the Michigan “Kraken” case allege? 

Former President Donald Trump and his political allies filed more than 60 lawsuits challenging election results last year. Nearly all of them were quickly dismissed or collapsed in the courtroom.

Ms. Powell was involved in the wildest of these cases, which held, without evidence, that a conspiracy of international intelligence agents and foreign leaders hacked into U.S. voting machines and threw the election to Joe Biden. She talked publicly of “releasing the Kraken,” comparing the baseless suits to a powerful force that would supposedly reverse the vote results.

The Michigan “Kraken” was filed on Nov. 15 on behalf of a group of state voters and GOP nominees to be presidential electors. It was signed by Ms. Powell and two other lawyers and listed a number of supporting attorneys.

It charged Michigan election officials with violating state election laws in the manner in which they held the November election, and made allegations of widespread voter fraud in the state. The latter were contained in numerous affidavits from individuals, some lifted from separate lawsuits already dismissed by the courts.

The suit also charged that absentee voter counts in some Michigan counties were likely manipulated by a computer algorithm installed after 2016, shifting votes from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden. It stated falsely that voting equipment companies Dominion and Smartmatic were “founded by foreign oligarchs and dictators to ensure computerized ballot stuffing ... to make certain Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez never lost another election.”

The “Kraken” suit asked that as a remedy the court decertify the Michigan vote and “transmit certified election results that state that President Donald Trump is the winner of the election.”

Judge Parker dismissed the case on Dec. 7, finding it legally flawed in a number of ways, likely to fail on the merits in its charges of election law violations, and full of baseless fraud claims.

Lawyers for entities named as defendants in the case, including the city of Detroit and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, then asked the judge to sanction the lawyers who filed the suit.

Why did the judge sanction the “Kraken” lawyers? 

Courts are bound by rules of evidence and procedure, and attorneys are supposed to follow ethical rules. It is one thing to spin a false tale of conspiracy on a cable news show; it’s quite another to do it in front of a judge.

On July 12, Judge Parker held a lengthy public hearing on possible sanctions for Ms. Powell, Mr. Wood, and other lawyers involved in the case. She questioned in particular whether the “Kraken” group had put any effort into checking the individual affidavits contained in the lawsuit.

She found they had not. They didn’t ask for further explanations from any of the people charging fraud – and had not even checked to see whether what they described were in fact state law violations.

Many of their allegations were “based on nothing more than belief, conjecture and speculation rather than fact,” Judge Parker wrote in last week’s ruling.

One individual, for instance, said she saw two vans pull into the garage of a counting room, one in the morning and one at night. She was told they were delivering food, but she never saw any food, so she surmised it was possible they were delivering illegal ballots.

Another, out for a walk with his dog after the election, saw a young couple take three or four clear plastic bags out of their van and put them in the back of a Postal Service truck, which appeared to be waiting for them. “It was as if the postal worker was told to meet and stand by until these large bags arrived. ... What could be in those bags could be ballots,” said the affidavit.

Judge Parker called this man’s account “a masterclass on making conjectural leaps.”

Overall, the judge determined that the “Kraken” lawyers wasted the court’s time by “dragging out” the case long after it was too late to change anything. They asked for remedies far beyond what the court could provide, and presented information as fact without vetting it. Even cursory investigation would have revealed “wild inaccuracies” in some of the case’s expert testimony, including that related to conspiracy claims, Judge Parker wrote.

“This lawsuit should never have been filed. The [state and city defendants] should never have had to defend against it,” the judge concluded.

Now what?

In her sanction decision, Judge Parker ordered the “Kraken” lawyers to pay defendants’ legal costs and each take 12 hours of continuing legal education on election law and pleading standards.

They could also face discipline or even disbarment from states where they are licensed to practice. There is recent precedent for that. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani – who was not involved in this case – has already been suspended from practicing law in New York by a state appeals court for making “demonstrably false and misleading claims to courts, lawmakers, and the public at large” in connection with the former president’s failed reelection effort.

Other states where Ms. Powell and her associated lawyers filed “Kraken” cases could also levy sanctions. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has asked a court to sanction them and force them to pay more than $100,000 in attorney fees for their lawsuit in that state.

But Ms. Powell’s most costly problem could be the defamation lawsuit filed against her by Dominion Voting Systems. The suit accuses her of overseeing a “viral disinformation campaign” against the company and asks for more than $1 billion in damages. Dominion has filed similar suits against others, including Mr. Giuliani, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and Fox News.

In Pictures

These Kenyan villagers are used to flooding. This is different.

Wetlands have long been flashpoints between environmental conservation and development. For members of Kenya's Luo ethnic group, the Yala Swamp is more than a habitat to protect or a resource to exploit. It’s home.

April
KANG-CHUN CHENG
A man takes a boat to visit relatives on Maduwa island within the Bunyala settlement of Kenya’s Busia County. Land here used to flood each rainy season, but since early 2020, the waters have come to stay.

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Just over a sandbar from the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria sits Yala, the country’s largest freshwater swamp, which is home to a half-million people. The Luo, one of Kenya’s dozens of ethnic groups, have long inhabited this region and have drawn from it: catching fish, harvesting papyrus reeds for basket weaving and cooking fuel, and worshipping at shrines that dot the wetlands. 

For much of Kenya’s history, however, the government has taken a different view, as officials have eyed the wetlands for development. Dams and reservoirs have displaced villagers. Conflicts over land use are rife. 

Since March 2020, floods have become constant. The encroaching waters have shut down schools and broken up families, as people debate whether to leave.

“Where would we even go?” says Gordon Auma, an elder and fisherman in Maduwa. “Everything we know is here.”

The ecological degradation has spurred the government to announce a new wetlands policy this year, recognizing their “vital role” for the environment. Observers say there has been little implementation on the ground, and are waiting to see results. In Yala, meanwhile, many residents have one message: We’ll continue our lives here as long as we can.

These Kenyan villagers are used to flooding. This is different.

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Swamps are often thought of as desolate wastelands. Yet they are rich environments teeming with life – and vanishing quickly.

Around the world, wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests from both climate change and development. Their transformation threatens not only plants and animals, but also the people who call wetlands home.

Just over a sandbar from the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria sits Yala, the country’s largest freshwater swamp, which is home to a half-million people.

The Luo, one of Kenya’s dozens of ethnic groups, have long inhabited this region and have drawn from it: catching fish, harvesting papyrus reeds for basket weaving and cooking fuel, and worshipping at shrines that dot the wetlands. 

KANG-CHUN CHENG
A man walks from his home in Usenge, which was flooded in April 2021. For many places in the region, what were once contiguous islands or tracts of dry land now must be crossed by boat.

Since the mid-20th century, Lake Victoria has undergone drastic ecological changes. The introduction of Nile perch and water hyacinth, both invasive species, has sent native fish numbers plummeting. Those effects, combined with intensive fishing and drainage for farming, have contributed to the extinction of more than 200 species. Meanwhile, an uptick in farming, industry, and urban development has fed eutrophication – an increase in biomass and algae that deoxygenates water and accelerates erosion.

KANG-CHUN CHENG
Janet Were Obonda sits inside the tent where she lives with her husband and six grandchildren. The family was displaced last year. Few people have the means or even the desire to relocate.

KANG-CHUN CHENG
Leonida Isaac stands in front of her house on Kholukhongo Island in Bunyala. She lived here with her husband and three children before they were displaced by the unabating waters in the autumn of 2020.

As early as Kenya’s independence in 1963, the government has worked to reclaim Yala swamp and divert its rivers for agricultural use. Dams and reservoirs have displaced villagers, and conflicts over land use are rife. Officials view wetlands as territory for development, while conservationists see them as homes for unique flora and fauna that support communities’ cultures and livelihoods.

Since March 2020, floods have become constant. The encroaching waters have shut down schools and broken up families, as people debate whether to leave. For many Luo, Yala itself is a source of deep identity, and reverence for ancestors runs deep. 

“Where would we even go?” says Gordon Auma, an elder and fisherman in Maduwa. “We have no savings, nothing. Everything we know is here.” 

KANG-CHUN CHENG
A fisherman untangles his nets in Usenge, located in the western Nyanza province of Kenya. Fishing is a crucial source of income, but industrial development and climate change have affected fish populations.

The ecological degradation has spurred the Kenyan government to announce a new wetlands policy this year, recognizing their “vital role” for the environment. Observers say there has been little implementation on the ground, and are waiting to see results. In Yala, meanwhile, many residents have one message: We’ll continue our lives here as long as we can.

KANG-CHUN CHENG
Richard Oyula has been collecting the remains of animal species disappearing from Lake Kanyaboli. He holds the horns of a sitatunga antelope – a rare swamp-dwelling antelope that is vanishing along with expanses of regional swamps.
KANG-CHUN CHENG
Fishermen organize their nets on the shores of Lake Victoria after a day’s work. Swamp fisheries are not only vital for biodiversity, but also hold significant socioeconomic value for local communities. Fish is a staple in villagers’ diets, along with ugali (maize meal) and greens.

Essay

After 9/11, this chaplain sows seeds of religious understanding

After the 9/11 attacks, our essayist, a chaplain, answered calls to explain the roots of religious violence with a message of unity, respect, and love.

April
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
A Muslim woman attends a sermon at the New York Islamic Center in Manhattan on Sept. 14, 2001, declared a national day of prayer for all faiths.

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Urgent calls began to pour in just one day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. As a U.S. Army chaplain, I had spoken to military staff groups occasionally since 1989 about the roots of religiously motivated violence. Now it was a hot topic, as many in the West ignorantly equated the fiery attacks with mainstream Islam. 

All three of the world’s major monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – trace their origin to Abraham in their sacred texts. “All three religions have seen violent breakaway factions,” I told my audiences. They do not represent the mainline teachings of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. The common origin and shared purpose of these three great religions should be a source of unity and respect among all adherents.

A moving example of the power of mutual respect came after one such briefing when four smiling imams approached and insisted on shaking my hand.

The imams’ actions underlined the anguish of the Muslim community at being so misunderstood and vilified by the actions of a few extremists. The moment spoke of the power of love, whose source is divine, to knit us together.

After 9/11, this chaplain sows seeds of religious understanding

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Urgent calls began to pour in just one day after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: Would I come and brief this or that group in the U.S. Army and Air Force Operations Centers at the Pentagon? Over the next few months, I also spoke to most of the intelligence community in Washington, D.C.

As a U.S. Army chaplain, I had spoken to military staff groups occasionally since 1989 about the roots of religiously motivated violence. Now it was a hot topic.

All three of the world’s major monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – trace their origin to Abraham in their sacred texts. All three also contain examples of “divine command morality.” Briefly, this aberrant teaching requires believers not to question instructions from designated prophets. The mainstream of all three faiths considers such blind obedience a distortion, especially if the orders are inhumane. 

“All three religions have seen violent breakaway factions,” I told my audiences. Look at the “Christian” Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, in 1993, who burned and murdered their own members. Similarly, the Jewish zealots of Masada died by suicide or were killed by fellow Jews in the year 66 rather than surrender to Roman soldiers. And while the Islamic State is the clearest parallel to such extremism in Islam, Al Qaeda’s attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa, the bombing of the USS Cole, and 9/11 also exemplify this violent misapprehension.

But in 2001, the fiery attacks wrought by the hijackers were, for many in the West, their first encounter with Islam. Many ignorantly equated such extremism with mainstream Islam. All such violent religious factions across the Abrahamic tradition are small, I pointed out. They do not represent the mainline teachings of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam. The common origin and shared purpose of these three great religions should be a source of unity and respect among all adherents.

I experienced a moving example of the power of mutual respect after one such briefing in the early 2000s, at Pace University in New York City. 

Four Muslim imams approached me after the talk. They were smiling. “We would like to thank you,” one of them said. “And we’d like to shake your hand.” 

I’d been thanked before, but this was different. I am a woman, and in mainstream traditional Islam, imams do not touch women who are not of their family – much less shake their hands.

I smiled and bowed my head. “I appreciate your thanks,” I said, “but I wouldn’t want you to compromise your beliefs.”

Their response was even more moving: “We insist on shaking your hand!” 

When I extended my hand, each imam in turn took it in both of his and bowed. 

“You are the first imams to have shown me this very kind and rare form of gratitude,” I said. But why had they insisted? They had never heard anyone – not even a fellow Muslim – read from the Quran and speak the Prophet Muhammad’s name with such reverence, they said, especially when I added the requisite phrase, “Peace be upon him.”

The imams’ actions underlined the anguish of the Muslim community at being so misunderstood and vilified by the actions of a few extremists. The moment also spoke of the power of love, whose source is divine, to knit us together.

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The Monitor's View

Restoring Palestinian-Israeli trust

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On Sunday evening, with no press cameras allowed, a top Israeli official met with the head of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank city of Ramallah. That might seem like normal diplomacy, but in this case it was not. The two sides have had no high-level face-to-face talks in over a decade, a result of deep misgivings and suspicions. No wonder Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz summed up his dark-of-night visit with PA President Mahmoud Abbas this way: “I came to the meeting to build trust.”

If trust is rooted in shared values and expectations of honest dealings, their secretive get-together was a modest success, at least in several humanitarian gestures by Israel. Its proactive steps reflect a bottom-up approach toward Israel influencing the conflict with Palestinians. If the broad-based coalition under Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett can restore trust with the PA, it might be able to shape a reality for peace rather than simply manage the frequent violence in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Restoring Palestinian-Israeli trust

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AP
A Palestinian on the West Bank argues with Israeli soldiers during an Aug. 25 protest against a new road for Israeli settlers north of Nablus.

On Sunday evening, with no press cameras allowed, a top Israeli official met with the head of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank city of Ramallah. That might seem like normal diplomacy but in this case it was not. The two sides have had no high-level face-to-face talks in over a decade, a result of deep misgivings and suspicions. No wonder Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz summed up his dark-of-night visit with PA President Mahmoud Abbas this way: “I came to the meeting to build trust.”

If trust is rooted in shared values and expectations of honest dealings, their secretive get-together was a modest success, at least in the humanitarian gestures by Israel. Some 16,000 additional Palestinians will be allowed to work in Israel, bolstering a hard-hit economy on the West Bank. The PA will receive a loan of more than $150 million. Some 5,000 Palestinians will be able to reunite with family in Israel and occupied East Jerusalem. And Israel will issue more permits for Palestinian housing in the West Bank.

These proactive steps reflect a bottom-up approach toward Israel influencing the conflict with Palestinians. If the broad-based coalition under Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett can restore trust with the PA, it might be able to shape a reality for peace rather than simply manage the frequent violence in both the West Bank and in Gaza, which is controlled by the radical Islamist group Hamas.

“The stronger the Palestinian Authority is, the weaker Hamas will be,” Israel’s defense minister explained. “And the greater its ability to govern is, the more security we’ll have and the less we’ll have to do.”

The issues between the two sides are so huge that trust-building is the first requirement. For Israel, which now faces a more serious threat from Iran, the time is ripe to lift up the expectations of West Bank Palestinians for a better life. Within Mr. Bennett’s eight-party coalition, a few politicians such as Mr. Gantz see it that way. And in the prime minister’s meeting last week with President Joe Biden, the United States reaffirmed that “a negotiated two-state solution is the only viable path.”

That solution would be easier if Israel and the PA could act as if each side were a state, holding more face-to-face talks at the highest level, exploring what values and interests they share. Trust starts with listening.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

How can I stop feeling like a nobody?

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As God’s children, all of us have something unique and special to give, as well as the capacity to feel and know our God-given worth.

How can I stop feeling like a nobody?

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

I felt like I was a nobody at my job. When I shared an idea, it seemed like no one listened – like my thoughts and opinions didn’t matter. Like no one cared.

I was the youngest one there, and to me everyone else seemed smarter, funnier, more experienced. I felt they were all better than I was, and I imagined they were even laughing at me behind my back.

I’d been studying Christian Science for a couple of years – after a friend had introduced me to it when I was in high school – and I’d learned that any situation or thought that made me feel bad about myself was one I could challenge with prayer. I wasn’t praying to become as good as everyone else, but I thought that by turning to the books that had been helping me – the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy’s writings – I could get a more spiritual view of my circumstances. And at the very least, I might feel a little better if I did.

One passage from Mrs. Eddy’s writings really helped me. She wrote, “Each individual must fill his own niche in time and eternity” (“Retrospection and Introspection,” p. 70). This “niche” is a special position or role in which we can enjoy and share our unique interests and talents. And I was encouraged by that, because I had learned that Mrs. Eddy spoke from experience.

During her life, she’d often been dismissed or ignored, not only because she was a woman, divorced, and sometimes homeless but also because of her ideas. As she read the Bible, she began to see all of reality differently. Mrs. Eddy discovered that what’s real and true about each of us is that we aren’t just human beings, with limitations and flaws. We are God’s own likeness or expression – the likeness of all that is good.

Mrs. Eddy eventually wrote a book called “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”; healed hundreds of people; taught Christian healing; and founded a worldwide church, several magazines, and an international daily newspaper. She learned and proved that everyone is a “somebody” in God’s, divine Love’s, universe. We are Love’s own ideas! Every single one of us has something special to give. It is our unique reflection of spiritual qualities that identifies us and establishes our unchangeable worth.

Believe it or not, thinking about math was also a huge help. Let’s say someone said to the number four, “You are insignificant. You don’t matter. Let’s just throw you out of the entire system.” What would happen? The whole system would collapse without the number four. That’s how essential each number is.

In the same way, each of God’s ideas is needed to make His entire creation complete, whole. God’s entire universe would collapse without you or me. That’s how needed each of us is.

This must have been why Jesus respected the worth of each person, including those who were oppressed, belittled, rejected, and abused. His understanding of everyone as God’s daughter or son helped those who thought they were nobody see themselves differently. Jesus even made special efforts to reach out to and enjoy meals with Samaritans, who were often treated disrespectfully and thought of as nobodies.

Seeing myself as a valued, distinct, spiritual idea existing in Love – instead of as a mortal limited by age, personality, and human circumstances – was a turning point for me. I began to understand that divine Love, my Father-Mother, knows me and everyone, delights in me and everyone, and approves of me and everyone. I am made of Love’s qualities, which are meant to be shared.

I realized that though my coworkers were brilliant, I could bring love, kindness, and joy to our office, which were also needed. And I began to see that the brilliance I appreciated in my coworkers came from God, too. God is the source of everyone’s goodness, so there was nothing to feel jealous about or intimidated by. From the morning I realized this, I no longer felt that I needed to compete with anyone. And my coworkers began to consider my ideas and appreciate me, too. We were able to work together with mutual respect.

This experience convinced me that being a “somebody” isn’t about having a special set of skills or being better than everyone else. Your worth, my worth, everyone’s worth, is already an established fact, because God made us to express all His wonderful qualities. And that’s why we are all somebodies – and can know it.

Originally published in the Christian Science Sentinel’s online TeenConnect section, Aug. 17, 2021.

Viewfinder

A 66-million-year-old puzzle

Lewis Joly/AP
Big John, the largest known triceratops skeleton, is being assembled in a showroom in Paris, Aug. 31, 2021. Before being put up for auction on Oct. 21, the more than 66-million-year-old Big John will be on display. Estimated between €1.2 million and €1.5 million ($1.4 million and $1.8 million), this remarkable specimen will be the centerpiece of the Naturalia auction organized by Alexandre Giquello at Drouot.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

April Austin
Weekly Deputy Editor, Books Editor

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow for a thought-provoking story about a fox and a scientist who wound up companioning together.

And celebrate with us the return of in-person Monitor Breakfasts with this Q&A from today’s breakfast with AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. 

More issues

2021
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