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Jan 3, 2018

Hampton's journalist Joanne Pilgrim from The East Hampton Star travels to Greece to help the mostly Syrian refugees arriving on a small Greek island. What makes Joanne take the leap from compassion into action?

“He said ‘If you have 100 friends — for me 98 of them are gone.’ It was hard not to cry, but how dare I cry? I haven’t been through this!”

When I heard that my friend and colleage was travelling to Greece to help the boatloads of mostly Syrian refugees that had been arriving, I was jealous — and impressed. Why wasn’t I going over to Greece to help the refugees? I gave myself all the usual excuses — I’m way too busy, I can’t just leave my life!

Watching the world go by on our computers and televison sets every minute there’s something worthy to give to, and after a while I feel like you just have to start shutting some of it out or else you cannot tend to your own life.

As I saw her posts on Facebook, and some of the photos that were coming back, I wanted to know what made her shut off her computer, get up off the couch in The Hamptons, and fly across the world to help people she didn’t know.

Why does one person take the leap?

In her case, she told me she jumped because it was time for a re-calibration of herself. She needed to feel gratitude for all that she has, and what better way.

Joanne told me that she feels “like it wasn’t a completely selfless act. I will admit that I had my own parallel thought process going into this that has to do with me as a human being.”

We both live in East Hampton and it has a reputation for being only for the wealthy. But she and I are both writers and we both struggle to make ends meet out here.

Joanne says, “Living in The Hamptons, there’s a big divide between the haves and the have-nots and I’m probably more on the have-not side. Part of the motivation for putting myself in that situation, giving to people who have lost everything, was a way of working through things in my own mind. It says ‘How dare I aspire to have any more than I have!’ What I have is incredible by any standards, and I am grateful.

She wondered how she could possibly help, but she learned to say “Welcome to Greece” in Arabic, and to smile as women handed their children to her across the water.

“You can’t even conceive of what these people are facing, where they’re coming from, and what happened to them. These are people like you and me.”

She told me she realized that although she didn’t have financial resources to help, she had other resources.

“It was a recalibration in some ways. I’m not getting any younger. At this point in my life — its time. I do have the opportunity to go give something — what little it was. Its a nice feeling to be that person who says ‘I’m here because you’re a human being and I care about you.’”

Photo by Doug Koontz.