One Eye Open

If the America of my youth could be said to be the “melting pot”, my adolsecence found Columbus to be the snow globe version of the whole. I was surrounded by differing opinions, religions, ideas and lifestyles-and found merits in almost all of them. Some of my favorite moments were when I could engage a stranger in a conversation that brought my faith in humanity up. I remember working at Subway one day and being able to understand the Latina woman before her son translated and then wished her well in her own language. She started laughing and the son and I spoke of how wild it is that I would take the time to treat his mother as an equal (well, formal equal). I remember interacting with a Muslim woman who became overjoyed that I would understand her not eating pork, and that I knew it was her holiday. If Columbus was my own personal melting pot, I became delighted to explore the rest.

I’ve had a lot of eye opening experiences-and not all of them for the better. When I was assaulted, I saw the depravity of human nature. I saw the victim-blaming and felt the humiliation that came from not being able to cope. When I moved to Kansas, I was confronted with the fact that people didn’t accept my belief system, and that the names of the LGBT club members were not released because of fear of violence and possibly death against them. I was a blue dot living in an overwhelmingly red state. I came to understand why it was such an issue to blend in when you were born to stick out. I was rebuffed for my naïveté-that I should not have been surprised that the things that made me (and millions of other people) different, were suddenly the things that made it dangerous.

And then I understood.

You see, I had always been on the other side. I was the ally that showed others that not all (insert category here) people were bad. I was the person who worked hard to be the best ally I could be-without ever really understanding the gravity of what I was allying for. And now, being on the flip side-they’re even more important. I’ve met friends who accept me for who I am, and that’s wildly important. Because how many times have we all needed someone to make the darkness stay away? 

But I now understand why speaking Spanish to a woman in a predominantly white neighborhood was a novel thing. I now understand why being kind and considerate to a Muslim woman was considered something out of the norm. It isn’t because they expect every single person to be vehemently against who they are- it’s that too many people are against who they are. They, much the same as I, were looking for a beacon, a person to tell them that it is okay to keep being absolutely just yourself. That there is a place for all the differences, no matter how alone you might feel.

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” -Dr. Seuss

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Words Unspoken

Yesterday, as I was waiting on customers, a woman in a hijab came through my line. I asked her to wait a moment so I could finish up with my current customer. Before I grabbed a pair of gloves I said,

“Before I start, I have a question for you.” I’m not sure what went through her mind in that split second, but I know the look on her face was unsure and borderline scared. “The lady before you had a ham sandwich-would you like me to get new knives?”

Her face immediately lit up-and all fear was gone. “Yes please, that would be great.”

So I go to the back and grab new knives, put on a fresh pair of gloves and make sure that I made their food without contaminating it. I made sure they knew when I switched stations that it was a new knife there as well-just in case they hadn’t seen me set it on fresh wrapper. When I rang her out, she said

“I just wanted to say thank you. It’s very rare to find anyone who will accommodate us.”

A million things ran through my mind to say, but all that came out was “It’s no problem at all.” You see, what I wish I had said was:

I’m so sorry that it’s rare to be treated as a human being, with equality and kindness. I’m not an expert at much, but I know that getting between you and your god isn’t going to do me any favors with me and mine, and it just makes me an asshole. If taking five seconds out of my day to get extra knives means that you can find peace at the end of your life, then I am so happy it was me you got as your server tonight. I know the media sees you and your religion as a threat, but I see you as people. I know you just wanted a sandwich and I want you to know that I did my best. I want you to know that it’s never an inconvenience to be a decent person-because I know the power of kindness. And I want you to know that just as Da-esh does not represent you in any way, so too am I not represented by the man who holds the title of president and his racist allies.

I wish I’d told you about how I went to a Ramadan feast and it opened my mind and heart to see strangers offering me food-even though they hadn’t eaten all day. About how I though your hijab was absolutely beautiful and that it complimented your skin tone really nicely.

I wish I’d had said these things, but all I said was that it wasn’t a problem. And it wasn’t. I just wish you knew why.