A few years ago, I saw my mom’s fear of refugees dissolve. While visiting me and my family in the Midwest, she sat in as I taught an English literacy class for East African refugee women, mostly from Somalia and Oromia. We were learning the language to describe our families, and we all went around the room saying how many children we had (the numbers were high—5, 8, 4—because Muslims view children as a gift from God).

When I introduced my mother, my class started probing. They asked how many children she had. “Three daughters,” she said, explaining that I was the middle child. No sons? The women seemed a little sad for her. My mother told them that she did, in fact, have a son, but that he had died in childhood as a result of a car accident. The women immediately expressed grief for her—a few even got up to hug my mom.

Then, despite various cultural and language barriers, one by one the women in my class shared how they too, had lost children, through sickness, famine, and war. One woman shared how six of her children died in a refugee camp. This woman, and every other person there had been touched by profound loss.

Our English class was transformed into something else. As the women hugged my mom and enfolded her into their circle of grief and resilience, she stopped seeing them as refugees. To her, they were grieving mothers, just like herself.

A few days ago I sent a brief text message to Maryan, a Somali, Muslim, neighbor, and friend. I told her I was thankful for her, I was sad about everything happening in the news, and I wanted her to know she was always welcome.

Later, the phone rang: “I haven’t had time to listen to the news,” she said. “What’s going on?” ...

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