Free the Hikers... Love and Miracles in a Time of Uncertainty

On Monday, August 31st I attended my first press conference. I wish I could say it was for something wonderful, some kind of celebration or monumental achievement, but it wasn't. It was a small gathering of friends and family who had come together to try to keep the media's attention on a grave situation happening half a world away. It marked the one-month anniversary of the arrest of Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, three American hikers, none of whom have been heard from since their July 31st arrest on the Iraq/Iran border. It was not a celebration.

Before I go any further, let me tell you what I know about Sarah. I met her a couple years ago when she was living in Berkeley; the moment I met her, I felt like I was in the presence of an angel. She has the most penetrating, kind and transcendent eyes, and love just oozes out of her. She is truly a remarkable woman... not because of anything she does, but because of who she is. It's funny, when I think about her, I think, "She's someone who really gets that she matters."

Sarah has plenty of accomplishments to warrant her mattering for what she does. She graduated from UC Berkeley and now lives in Damascus where she teaches English and is learning Arabic. She previously taught as part of the Iraqi Student Project, a program that gives Iraqi students living in Damascus the skills to continue their education in US schools. She has also written a multitude of articles on travel and social issues reflecting her time spent in Syria, Ethiopia, Yemen and Mexico. Sarah does a lot. From what I've read about Shane and Josh, and knowing Sarah, it seems that they are two remarkable human beings who do a lot, too.

But it goes so much farther than Sarah's "doingness." Her mattering emanates from her deep compassion for humanity, her strength of character, her commitment to all life and to the environments in which we live, her passion for adventure and her way of making everyone with whom she comes in contact feel like they're the most important person in her life.

A little over one month ago, on July 31st, Sarah, Shane and Josh were spending her week-long vacation from teaching hiking in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, in a region of Iraq that is increasingly popular with Western tourists. They were on their way to visit a beautiful waterfall they'd been told they should not miss when they may have accidentally strayed over the unmarked Iranian border and were arrested. They made a brief call to their companion, Shon Meckfessel (who had stayed behind, not feeling well), to tell him they'd been detained, but haven't been heard from since.

Now some argue that they should have known better than to travel in that part of the world. Heck, I have to admit, I even had a moment when I said, "What were they thinking?" But the truth is, they are world citizens, comfortable in a multitude of environments, and they chose to spend their vacation in a peaceful part of Iraq where many tourists feel comfortable traveling. Regardless of whether or not you think they were being naïve, they did not ask to be in the situation they are in now.

One of the reasons I am so concerned about Sarah, Shane and Josh is that I have two kids of my own who are incredibly worldly, well-heeled and intelligent. It could just as easily be my son in this situation, and I don't honestly know what I would do if he were. I can hardly even begin to comprehend it.

When I met Sarah's mom, Norah, at the press conference, I was overwhelmed by her composure, dignity and openness. She has been dealing with this situation on a daily, moment-to-moment basis for over a month, and I can only imagine how many moments of anxiety, grief and fear she's had in almost two months. However, she welcomed me with surprising graciousness, and was genuinely present for our conversation in a way that was truly admirable. I offered what help I could... a listening ear, someone to reach out to, but I know, as a mother, the only thing that will help will be that phone call saying her daughter is on her way home.

So, where do the love and miracles come in?

Shortly after the press conference, I heard someone say, "There is nowhere Love isn't." I immediately thought of Sarah, Shane and Josh - wondering if they're together, fed, safe or something much different. I didn't want to let my mind wander to the awful possibilities, but I couldn't help it.

Pondering that statement, I envision Sarah meditating on forgiveness for her captors, smiling at them, bringing as much love as possible to this terribly dark situation. My mind wanders to all the horrific, unspeakable atrocities that happen all over the world on a daily basis. And I have to believe that Love is everywhere, even in those places.

If we can trust that Love is everywhere and live from that stance, without allowing ourselves to get complacent or bitter, what might be possible for Sarah, Shane and Josh? Can we bring awareness to their plight and stay compassionate toward their captors? Can we send as much Love to the people who arrested them as we do to Sarah, Shane and Josh? What miracles could be possible if we did that?

I know I don't have any answers, only questions at this point. But what I do know is I'm going to continue to send Love to Sarah, Shane, Josh and their families, as well as their captors, and all who are involved in helping to resolve this unfortunate set of circumstances. I do know that, for me, holding everyone in the light of love and compassion is what helps me to stay active in a powerful, positive and effective way.

This is not to say there is no room for expressing our feelings of fear, grief, anger and confusion. To the contrary, we must express and share those feelings with each other so we can continue to think clearly and come back to Love. So, I offer this to Sarah, Shane and Josh, and their families - please know that you are held, that all of your feelings are welcome, and that there are more people with you than you can possibly imagine.

At the press conference, they said public awareness is really important, so maybe this is one small way I can help bring awareness to the plight of these three incredible people. Now the question is, are you willing to help? If so, what are you willing to do? Please visit www.freethehikers.com to help bring these three wonderful people home, and bring love and miracles where they are most needed.

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