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When small gestures can make large impact, how can you say no? Effie Caldarola

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Effie Caldarola
Effie Caldarola writes for the Catholic News Service column "For the Journey." (CNS photo)

So, you want to save the world? Yeah, so do I.

At least, most of us want to do good, some giving that will make a dent in the world’s woes, something from which we can see positive results. And sometimes in my daydreams I envision a rather large dent. I know I’m not superwoman, but, hey, a little minor world-saving would be terrific.

I was thinking these random thoughts as I waited in a concession line on a hot Midwestern day one summer with four Syrian refugee kids in Omaha, Nebraska. They had fled the destruction of Aleppo with their parents and subsequently spent two years in a camp in Turkey while being vetted for placement in the U.S.

This day, they were at soccer camp at a Jesuit prep school, arranged for them by someone in my faith-sharing group. Our group equipped them with balls, shoes, shinguards and now some of us took turns transporting them to and from camp for a week.

It seemed hundreds of little kids were kicking balls around when I arrived for pickup. All four seem to be enjoying this sport and playing aggressively.

Someone had told the 7-year-old that the truck out front had ice cream for a dollar, so the first thing he did when he saw me today was pull out a carefully folded dollar bill and inform me that they had each brought a dollar for ice cream.

How could I say no? But by the time we get to the line, it seems to snake on forever. And it’s apparent that this is not an ice cream truck, but rather a scheme to market a cup of ice with flavoring added, topped off with a couple of gummy worms, for $3 each.

But how could I say no? So I got out a twenty dollar bill and told them to put their money away.

We mull over the choices: watermelon, cherry, bubblegum, blueberry. Everyone rejects the gummy bears. The line is at a standstill. I try to find shade from the relentless sun and chat with friendly moms.

We finally arrive at the front of the line. “Four watermelons, no gummy bears,” I say, probably more abruptly than I should. I add a smile and make sure my friends say thank you.

Armed with about 30 napkins, we head to my car, one of the last left in the parking lot. We endeavor to buckle seat belts without spilling red coloring on the black upholstery. It takes about a half an hour to get to their apartment, and we are so late their mom calls to see, in very limited English, if we are OK.

The oldest daughter, 11 years old, has learned English remarkably well and she sits in the front seat and we converse and laugh. The little ones in the back make quiet slurping noises.

Their dad works about 60 hours a week at low-paying jobs far below his skill level and his former status in the middle class.

Aleppo, a beautiful modern city once, with remnants of medieval stone work and artifacts, has been reduced to rubble. This little group’s extended family has disbursed, some to Germany, some still in Turkey.

I would like to save the world, preferably in some heroic, flashy way. But the things for which we volunteer, the ways we show our love, are often small and seemingly insignificant. All I’ve been asked to do on this day is to buy some overpriced ices in a long line in the hot Midwestern sun.

How could I say no?

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