Once We Were Strangers by Shawn Smucker | Review

There are days when I wonder if this world can continue to exist under the current load of hate and misunderstanding and evil, when I wonder if the hearts of all people can somehow find an antidote to racism and virulent nationalism and a concern only for ourselves. We are born to these things as sparks fly upward, I suppose. I know I am. My friendship with Mohammad has been both the diagnosis and the beginning of a cure within me.

Once We Were Strangers by Author Shawn Smucker

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Synopsis

In 2012, Mohammad fled his Syrian village along with his wife and four sons, escaping to Jordan through the wilderness. Four years later he sat across from Shawn Smucker in a small conference room in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Though neither of them knew it, Mohammad had arrived in Shawn’s life just in time.

This is the story of a friendship. It is the story of a middle-aged writer struggling to make a living and a Syrian refugee struggling to create a life for his family in a strange and sometimes hostile land. It’s the story of two fathers hoping for the best, two hearts seeking compassion, two lives changed forever. It’s the story of our moment in history and the opportunities it gives us to show love and hospitality to the sojourner in our midst.

Anyone who has felt torn between the desire for security and the desire to offer sanctuary to those fleeing war and violence will find Shawn Smucker a careful and loving guide on the road to mercy and unity.

Book Details:

Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me About Loving My Neighbor by Shawn Smucker

Published by Revell Publishing Company (October 16, 2018)

Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir

Source: Publisher

Format: Paperback, 208 pages

Disclosure: My thanks to Revell Publishing Company for providing a copy of

Once We Were Strangers for my review. Opinions expressed here are mine.

Where to Buy:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound


Note: This review first appeared on

Puddletown Reviews.


Review of Once We Were Strangers

I cannot remember a time when reading a book had the transformative effect upon my life that Shawn Smucker’s Once We Were Strangers has had. The first few pages unfold into a story that provides a perspective of two lives–cultivated by different cultures and traditions–coming together in a way I’ve never experienced.

Imagine yourself traveling from Syria to Lancaster, PA. That’s a distance of 5,792 miles by air. But parts of that mileage you have either walked or relied on buses or cabs, usually in the night. You have not traveled alone. Your wife and four sons, the youngest of whom is only a toddler. You are leaving behind everything you have known for most of your life. You are taking a risk in a war-torn hostile country. Yet, what other options do you have to protect your family?

In four years time, after this agonizing journey, Mohammad, his wife Moradi, and their four sons arrive in Lancaster, PA. Their journey has been difficult, risky, and long. They are supported by a local organization, and one day a local resident of Lancaster, Shawn Smucker, arrives to meet Mohammad for the first of many visits and gatherings. They are hopeful that this book I’m reviewing will reach a point of going out into the world to tell Mohammad’s story and what is inevitably a similar story to that of most refugees in a new land.

After Shawn’s cautionary statement that Mohammad shouldn’t get his hopes as nothing might come of this effort, Mohammad’s translator shares the following:

Mohammad says it is impossible for nothing to come of this. He is glad you are willing to hear his story, and no matter what happens you are friends now. That is all that matters(Emphasis mine.)

Friends. Something we take for granted because most of us have a long history in our country. We may have moved from one city to another or perhaps one state to another. But we’ve not likely moved as many miles as Mohammad’s family did. Yet, Mohammad knows that friends are the foundation for his family’s success in a new land.

If friendships weren’t so important to all of us, where would all the social media outlets be? How clever of Facebook to use the phrase “Add Friend.” Friends bring us a sense of security, loving compassion, support, encouragement. As a refugee from another country, it seems refreshing that Mohammad was eager to find and make friends. This was something to which he was already accustomed.

A glimpse into the bridge-building, fear-silencing, life-affirming gift of cross-cultural friendship. This is an important and timely message.

–PETER GREER, president and CEO, HOPE International;

coauthor of Rooting for Rivals

There is so much I want to tell you about Mohammad and Shawn’s friendship building and about their families coming together as friends. To tell you too much robs you of the experience I had when I completed my reading of this short book. It takes away the element of transforming your existence in a country where many want to come to our country, and many have already done so. They too are people in search of friends, simple friendships, communities of support.

This need of something so simple touched me deeply when I realized how many friends I have–not on social media but in real life. It is incumbent on us to pass along those good gifts we’ve received. So, if I’m blessed with multiple friendships, it doesn’t hurt if I reach out and befriend another, and another, and another. In so doing, perhaps some of my friends will become friends too.

This story needs to be told–and then? It needs to be replicated in some way throughout all our communities.

— TSH OXENREIDER, author of At Home in the World:

Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

The last two quotes contained in this review are from advance praise for Once We Were Strangers. I have included them because they are relevant to what I believe is the importance of Mohammad and Shawn’s story.

Lastly, a few words from Shawn about this book:

I feel like I should have a disclaimer on the cover: ‘No one was harmed in the creation of this book.” But something was harmed. Something happened.’

My belief that refugees have little to offer was crushed. My belief that they need my help more than they need my friendship was brought low. My deep-seated, hidden concern that every Muslim person might be inherently violent or dedicated to the destruction of the West was exposed and found to be false.

* * *

The help I was prepared to offer was help given at arm’s length, aid that would cost me perhaps a tiny bit of time and maybe a few dollars but not much than that.

But I, not Mohammad, needed more than that. Actually, it turns out we both needed the same thing. We both needed a friend.

My Recommendation: I can’t emphasize enough the life-changing impact of this story. Nothing appears in these pages that is from someone’s imagination nor that has been fictionalized. It is a true story recounted by Shawn Smucker’s indelible excellence in his writing style. His descriptive powers given to Mohammad’s story of leaving Syria are filled with reality. This is a book that leaders in all religions need to read, men and women in power in our governments (county, state, and country) should read. We need to read it and step out in faith and hope to make a difference and make a friend. I highly recommend Once We Were Strangers.

My Rating:

Meet Shawn Smucker

Shawn Smucker is the author of the young adult novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There, as well as the memoir Once We Were Strangers. He lives with his wife and six children in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find him online at http://www.shawnsmucker.com.

Connect with Shawn:

Twitter | Facebook | Website

 

When Panic Sets In

Where did I put that?

Have you ever misplaced something? And then months later or maybe years have passed by, and guess what? You can’t remember where you put that treasured item. Then you panic!

On the evening of September 10, 2018, I found myself in a quandary. Husband Bob had left for his weekly Monday night band practice leaving the house empty save Maggie and me. I knew what I wanted/needed to work on…an outline for restructuring my memoir project. But where was that draft I so carefully wrapped in a bundle with beautiful ribbon back in 2016?

I searched high and low all over my sewing room/office shared space. In every nook and cranny. All this searching suited Maggie’s curiosity and the idea she was helping. My investigation took me nowhere. No folder, notebook, box, stack held my priceless (to me) stack of paper.

Frustration and panic set in.

What to do next? A cup of coffee, a good book, and Maggie in my lap. A calming and relaxing combination to ease the mind from my self-imposed stress. Perhaps I would think of someplace I hadn’t searched.

A half an hour or so later I had finished my coffee and put down my Kindle. As I stroked Maggie’s back, I struck upon an idea. Putting Maggie to the floor, I stood up and headed back to my workspace. I began plowing through standing magazine holders. To my surprise and relief, there it was–my beautiful, beribboned, marked up manuscript!

By now, it was time for bed and the next day other things took priority. However, I now know where that manuscript is, and I will try my hardest to remember its location.

Q4U: Have you ever forgotten where you’ve placed a manuscript, essay, or story you’re working on? Or do you have a nicely organized plan for keeping up with unfinished projects? Please share with us below.

Header Image Attribution: Via Lifewire

The Writing Studio Proudly Presents…

A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

A look at the finished project.

After hours and hours of design work plus hard labor building this wonderful space for me, I know Bob is glad to see this day come. We still have flooring to get down and some additional landscaping come spring. But it’s ready for me to spend my writing time there.

Several months ago I posted about this project and included three images. Things definitely look different today.

Here are a few photos of the Studio now. Clicking on an image will enlarge it and also provide the images in a slideshow format.

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Gratitude and love fill my heart.

While Bob worked so hard last summer and then finished the exterior painting and clean up this last month, I was sitting in my recliner or on good days at my corner writing space. Depending on the day, I might have been prone on the bed. At times, I felt guilty he was working so hard to get this additional writing space completed.

I say “additional” because as noted in my previous blog post I don’t have wifi access in my studio. This is intentional. When I’m in that space, with classical or soft jazz music playing and nature all around outside, I want to focus on writing, reading, and/or research. 

In the near term, I’ll be revising my memoir manuscript one last time before sending it off into the big wide world. My studio will be my workroom void of distractions as I want to provide a work as near to a finished product as I can.

You are owed my thanks as well.

Over the past 33 months, as I struggled to stay present online and to write, so many have encouraged and supported me. I can share with you that we thought things were improving recently. For a short while, we thought we had the answers in front of us, but that changed last week with a call from my surgeon. Some days you wonder if it’s ever going to end.

Continue to be the writing community you are, and it will allow each writer here, there, or wherever you spend your social media and reading time the chance to publish a memoir or a first novel or YA work. You never know whose life you have touched.

Via Quotefancy

Deconstruction and Reconstruction of My Memoir

Memoir Writing’s Toll.

Memoir writing is often a long and arduous journey. Sometimes it takes a toll on the writer in a variety of ways.

There is the debate over what family members will think or do. The writer questions the truth of what he/she is writing. This questioning brings into consideration just how much the truth may be altered. Use your own name or a pseudonym is another question. And after all this questioning, doubt takes up its place in the writer’s mind.

Self-doubt is an author’s worst enemy.

Self-doubt has a personality all its own. Its abilities can bring down a writer in an instant. Is my memoir good enough to be published? Should I self-publish or get an agent? Have I covered all the bases with regard to truth? What have I left undone? Perhaps I’ll just give up!

Via Positive Writer

A year or so ago I gave in to self-doubt.

I’ll admit it was a combination of things, both physical and mental, that caused my self-doubt. But it became so overpowering, as it can, I thought I had no choice but to stop working on my memoir.

I tidied up my manuscript into a beautiful bundle of pages and tied it with a blue ribbon. Then I set it aside where I couldn’t see it. I’ve not touched it since.

In recent months I’ve read some books, including memoirs, which have encouraged me. Some blog posts have also heightened my desire to move ahead. Included in these posts are:

 I advise this when writing about family: Pay attention to details … journals, diaries, photographs, conversations. Don’t paint people in black and white, but offer portraits with insight, based on knowledge, real and authentic. Ask yourself: Would I want someone to tell my story any other way?

Susan G. Weidener, Women’s Writing Circle, blog post dated June 18, 2018, Fear and Writing About My Father: Memoir Lessons (emphasis by Susan G. Weidener)

Let Deconstruction Begin!

We’ve all watched old buildings come down. Sometimes the building is not so old but is demolished in the name of progress. Other times the destruction is caused by forces of nature–tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, fire.

I remember the first implosion I watched on TV. It was an amazing sight to behold! A building falling into itself. Even better here are two buildings at the University of Nebraska imploding almost side-by-side:

Cather-Pound Residence Hall Implosion
University of Nebraska at Lincoln (2012)
Via YouTube

This image is a bit drastic in comparison to what I intend to do with my memoir manuscript. Yet, deconstruction of a piece of work that has taken years to write is somewhat nerve shattering.

Will I be able to bring it back together into a cohesive story? Or will I find myself on yet another wrong path? Pondering these kinds of thoughts make me nervous.

I am almost ready to start. A work table has been purchased and placed in the Studio. This is where I intend to sit and begin reading and cutting. Yes, cutting. With scissors in hand, I’ll snip what I want to move elsewhere and let it flutter to the tabletop where I’ll label it with its new location. 

Here is Where Reconstruction Begins.

Once those snippets are labeled I’ll begin taping and moving them to their new location within the remaining manuscript. During my last reading, I recognized a missing link. Nothing like the Missing Link believed to be part of the Theory of Evolution.

My missing link may lead my readers to assume the worst about one of my characters, and this is not my intention. So, I need to bring that character into a whole person and not one divided by my storytelling. These words may not make much sense to you right now, but trust me they mean a great deal to me and my story.

Conclusion.

What I’ve learned from this phase of my writing is that allowing the manuscript to marinate is one of the most useful tools in a writer’s toolbox. 

Another handy tool is allowing yourself time to read your manuscript from the perspective of your unknown reader. Here you’ll find yourself capable of finding construction issues, plot, and storyline errors, issues with character development, and other things that may confuse your readers.

Take your time before you rush to publish your book. It never hurts to give it another close going over with a large magnifying glass. Heed Anne Lamott’s words: