A Thanksgiving reminder: from Afghanistan to Paris, and everywhere in-between

November has officially arrived, along with the crisp chill of autumn and the changing of the colors on the trees. We become fully immersed in my favorite season. Home to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, and the joys of Christmas preparations with loved ones.

As we once again enter into the season of giving, I wanted to share a small moment that made me stop in my tracks and reconsider my priorities — priorities which can often be overlooked in the stress and bustle of daily life.

I had previously shared the story of how I met Arya, a young Afghan refugee who spent two years crossing 11 countries, mostly by foot, before finally reaching France — his long-awaited destination, where he is currently seeking asylum.

Arya and I, in our unlikely friendship, have somehow transcended all barriers — language, culture, religion, etc. — and developed a connection that stands strong despite his transfer to a migrant center more than 800 kilometers away from Paris.

Before his transfer, my partner and I invited Arya for a farewell dinner at our apartment. He arrived perfectly on time; I smiled when I saw he was wearing a t-shirt that we bought together during the sales earlier that summer.

As soon as I saw what he was holding in his hands, however, my heart dropped.

Arya had brought a dessert — as is French custom, although I didn’t ask him to bring anything. Not only had he brought dessert, he brought THE dessert which is a delicacy in France, and definitely not cheap either: macarons.

Photo: © Nitr/Shutterstock

I looked at the dozen maracons neatly packaged in a gift box and did the quick calculation in my head — he had surely spent around 20 dollars on it. I felt a lump rise in my throat, knowing just how much he had sacrificed to purchase those macarons. He didn’t need to, but I know he wanted to show us that he cared for us, in the same way that we care for him, and that he was grateful for this dinner together before his big move.

It’s easy to be generous when you have more than what you need to live a comfortable life. But it really takes a special person to be generous when your basic needs haven’t even been met.

Try to imagine what it’s like…

To be generous when you’re hungry.

To be generous when you’re homeless.

To be generous when you’re alone and 7,000+ kilometers from your country and family, carrying nothing more than a backpack filled with all your worldly possessions.

Now THAT is impressive.

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Arya’s parents, but if someday I do, I would like to give them a hug and thank them for creating such a beautiful human. I would tell them that their son has taught me more about courage, humility, kindness and generosity than any fancy education or “successful” acquaintances could have ever done.

Success can be measured in a lot of different ways, and it’s often deeply personal. Our definition of success evolves alongside our life experiences and sometimes, it changes thanks to the people we meet.

When I was a student, I used to define success as getting good grades and making my parents proud.

When I started working, I defined success as having an interesting, important job with a salary that would allow me to eat well, buy nice things and travel.

After several years of working, my definition of success has once again shifted — this time towards achieving a good work/life balance and prioritizing my relationships.

I expect that my definition of success will continue to change with each new chapter of my life.

But meeting Arya and experiencing his simple act of generosity reminded me that, above all, success to me means practicing kindness.

Kindness in the face of adversity.

Kindness in the face of fear.

Kindness in the face of my busy life when it might otherwise be overlooked.

Arya’s gift left me feeling humbled, and I was honored to be on the receiving end of that act of kindness. Those macarons restored a little bit of my faith in humanity and gave me the encouragement I needed to continue seeking out little ways to make a difference:

Offer a metro ticket to a man whose only ticket was just refused by the machine.

Chase after a woman who dropped something from her purse while rushing to catch the bus.

Ask the homeless person on the corner if he or she would like the extra bread you’ve got in your bag.

Spend ten minutes to write a postcard to a loved one back home.

Surprise your significant other with morning coffee in bed or invite their friend over to share a meal.

Generosity doesn’t always need to involve money. You can be generous with your time, patience, kindness, encouragement or any other kind of support. Simply show up and try to do the most good with what you’ve got. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.

I’m grateful to Arya for this reminder of what it means to be kind, from one human to another. I only hope that I can continue to repay his generosity in a thousand ways, to a thousand people, over the course of my lifetime.

Photo: © Amber Christino

I wish the same to each of you. Cheers to November and to a new season of giving!

Sharing stories of humanity, family and my journey working with marginalized groups. Hoping to help conquer xenophobia with radical compassion.