“Kind words are short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless. “ — Mother Teresa
“Welcome to Australia”; these were the three words that greeted my grandfather when he first arrived in Australia. Although these kind words were ‘short and easy to speak’, they were hard to forget and long remain etched on his memory. More importantly, the effects those words have had on our extended family, have been invaluable.
My grandfather was a soldier in the South Vietnamese army, who fought alongside America and the Allied Nations during the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, they lost the war to the communist North Vietnamese; and as a high-ranking officer of the former government, my grandfather was imprisoned, abused and tortured, and stripped of all his dignity. After seven years, they finally released him. By that time, his home was destroyed, his family lost, and his friends had either been killed, moved on or too scared to acknowledge him. With nothing left for him in Vietnam except the likelihood of further persecution, he decided to escape in a small decrepit boat through the unforgiving, Indian Ocean. He managed to survive thirst and hunger, and cruelty at the hands of pirates, and by the time he arrived in Australia as a boat refugee in 1982, all he had left was the will to live.
At the Brisbane Airport, a middle-aged lady from the St Vincent de Paul Society warmly greeted him. To this day, he cannot remember her name; he cannot remember her face, or, what she wore. However, what he can remember were her sincere smile and the unforgettable words, “Welcome to Australia”. For a man who has not experienced an ounce of human kindness the previous 7 years, these magical words were overpoweringly impactive. It reminded him that he was still a human being and that he does matter. It also reinforced for him that the people in his new home are compassionate and welcoming. It made him feel safe, free and most importantly, it gave him hope.
With that seed of hope, my grandfather successfully created a new life for himself. He found employment, remarried and built a home for his wife and three children. Often, during family get-togethers, he would recall the impact of those three kind words on his arrival in Australia. He frequently reminded his children who are now in positions of responsibility to be kind with their words, as they would never know the impact that their words would have on others. I know his message have been successfully passed on, as I often witness my father welcome new residents to our neighbourhood, or, when he reassures new staff joining his company.
My father’s actions have impacted me, as did his father’s impacted him. In my own circle of influence, where I can, I have ensured that my words can make a positive difference to others. Whether it be at social events or at school, I try my best to make sure everyone feels welcome. Some of my closest friendships started with a simple, “You must be new. Welcome to our school.” Such words were effortless, yet they make such a difference to these people.
So, to the lady from the St Vincent de Paul Society who warmly greeted my grandfather some 35 years ago; I don’t know your name or who you are, but I do want to immensely thank you. You may not have realised it, but those ‘short and easy’ words you spoke that day have had a great impact on my family, for not one, but three generations. And, reaffirming the words of the late Mother Teresa, the ‘echoes’ of yours words, “Welcome to Australia”, are ‘truly endless’.