"I'll find a place for all of you," I said, feeling my motherly fierceness rise. He was too young to be fatherless and playing father all at the same time. He was also too young to brave the dorm tent for single men, too young to realize how vulnerable he really was. "You matter very much," I wanted to say, but I knew what he meant to say with his faltering English and his paper-thin bravado.
The first Farsi-speaking room was crowded, but I knew they all would be. I smiled widely as I was told the place was too full. "Every place is full," I said, as I always did. "We will not leave the baby in the cold." They continued telling me in Farsi that (I assume) there wasn't room. But years of cross-cultural interaction have taught me that, even when I can't be understand, a big smile and friendly insistence tend to get the job done. And in certain contexts, the blue eyes help, too. So I kept smiling and saying, "Every room is full. We will not leave anyone outside." After a little more blue-eyed diplomacy we had them settled on spread-out blankets - every bunk in that place had been occupied for hours.
Their clothes were wet, so I took the younger ones with me to the distribution room to find dry replacements. Immediately, trustingly, each of the girls slipped a cold little hand into either of mine, smiling on our walk as I felt the familiar twinge of guilt that I had several pairs of gloves and they had none. "I'll find them some," I thought. And socks and shoes in their size. Diapers and dry clothes for the baby. Suitable trousers for their mom. And if time allowed, some hot tea.
"Iraqi family of six" would be put down on the register. "1 adult, 5 children." And by the next morning they would move on, and I wouldn't be able to remember their names. But they matter, and the weight of their mattering presses down on me. So many, so many who matter, arriving against all odds on boats that aren't boats, leaving the next day if another ferry strike doesn't keep them holed up at the refugee camp another night or two. Iraqi Family of Six, Afghan Family of Twelve, Syrian Family of Eight, and hundreds more empty out in the morning, the rooms are cleaned, and more come to take their place, and more come, and more come, and they matter, every single one of them, and they won't stop coming, with their weighty souls and their fragile courage and their troubled memories and their weary smiles, and they won't stop mattering, so they must not stop mattering to me.