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Rising Above Borders

On Visiting a “New” Country for the First Time

It was with much excitement over the prospect of being able to see a new country, albeit from afar, that I visited the Indo-Pak Wagah Border in Lahore.

The car came to a screeching halt some miles away from the gate, and so did all my anticipation. A tornado of emotions hit me. The first to come was disappointment, for India was as alike as Pakistan as a pair of monozygotic twins. Where was the Other Country I was promised?

Second came profound confusion. I couldn’t fathom why this rivalry between the two existed when they were so similar to each other. Then disappointment came swirling around again, this time coupled with anger for the loss that both nations in particular, and humanity in general, incur by twisting a potential friendship into so pronounced an enmity.

The evening flag-lowering ceremony at the India-Pakistan international border near Wagah – Photo: WikipediaThe border looked as though a mirror had been placed in the middle of the gates. The scene had been painted in green, red orange and white, these being the colors of both the flags. At the gates, the two flags stood tall together. Guards stood as erect as buildings with a stern expression. A huge crowd had gathered, and they watched in awe as the magnitude of the situation slowly dawned on them.

The loud patriotic songs played on both sides were accompanied by equally loud chants of Pakistan Zindabad (Long Live Pakistan) and Bharat Mata Ki Jai Ho (Victory For Mother India). Sitting on that step in the balcony, watching the synchronized parade of soldiers from each country, I couldn’t help but smile. I smiled because I saw there’s nothing really to hate; that they’re just people like us sitting across a line. I smiled because I saw there is so much that unites us.

This perceived wall does not only exist between India and Pakistan. This happens with countries all across the globe. We have, for some reason, decided to attribute more importance to nationality, or geography, or even religion, when instead we should focus more on our inherent qualities: our sense of self, values and ethics.

Similarities or not, there are still many reasons to care about people across the borders, be it food, festivals, their cultural heritage, or even their hospitality. We can have all the best things that each country has to offer. We only need to embrace each other with open arms and warm hearts. All we need to do is ask ourselves: are the borders that divide us more important than the thousand reasons that unite us? We’re all human beings. We are taught the same basic principles.

As I scrutinized the solemn expressions on the faces of the people present, I could see that many of them had undergone this epiphany. You couldn’t help but feel our overwhelming similarities. Not just of race, values, or culture, but our common humanity and shared capacity to love.

Once you understand this, the borders blur, become mere dividers of geography, not affecting our sense of self, and certainly not dictating how we behave with fellow human beings.

In this moment, I realized that there is hope. Not all is lost to hatred and the lust for power. We can rise above these lines and explore the capacity for love with which we’ve been bestowed.

This story was originally published by KidSpirit, September 15, 2014.