A few weeks ago, I had yet another unique experience at Peace of Thread headquarters as Kristi Bird and Christie Kearney came by this morning to teach yoga to our seamstresses. Yoga is a fun activity that allows the women to rejuvenate their bodies, which can be ground down by trauma and stress. Exercising together can also provide a good sense of community. I love to participate in the Peace of Thread community, so I was eager to take the yoga class with the seamstresses. I sat down on a mat next to Ergaalem*, our newest trainee as we both prepared to do something we’d never done before.
As we stretched our bodies and bent them into seemingly impossible shapes, Kristi instructed us to “open your heart”-that is to bend backwards and stretch your arms to “open” the area of your chest around your heart. Ergaalem had a lot of fun. Hearing me grunt, she looked over at me and chuckled. “Is not easy,” she said.
I agreed with her. Yoga wasn’t easy. In fact, it some of the things Kristi asked us to do felt pretty weird. Afterwards, though, we felt refreshed in both our bodies and our spirits.
“Open your heart” may be a yoga instruction, but it’s also a good metaphor for what we do at Peace of Thread every day. We “open our hearts” by loving everyone who comes to us-no matter what language they speak or what background they have. And our seamstresses and their families love us back. This mutual opening of hearts takes many forms: sewing together, praying together, eating in one another’s houses, and even visiting each other in the hospital. Like learning yoga, learning to live as a community is fulfilling but not easy. Sometimes, sharing our lives with each other leads to experiences that feel uncomfortable.
For example, some of our seamstresses can’t speak or understand English very well. Language barriers sometimes appear when an English-speaking woman is trying to help a seamstress learn how to make a bag. When that happens, communication can be as challenging and frustrating as the most elaborate yoga pose for both women. Fortunately, a foundation of patience and friendship enables them to work together to solve the problem.
For me personally, just being around women who dress so differently from me is sometimes a challenge that stretches my soul. Our seamstresses are wonderful people, but sometimes as an American I feel painfully aware that the people I care about are from cultures that are very different from mine. But when I see Ergaalem’s smile and hear her laugh, I know that opening my heart is worth it.
Opening our hearts to people different from us is a hard task, but persevering in it enriches our souls more than yoga ever could.