Archive for November, 2015

Please be Kind

On September 11th, 2001 I was 11 years old and in middle school. I lived in a town within a commutable distance from NYC so you could say it hit us pretty hard.  This isn’t a story about that day.  This is a story that happened a few days later.

I was in the cafeteria sitting with my usual group.  It was the same group that had sat together on the 11th trying to figure out what was happening based on the limited information our teachers had given us.  We had comforted each other in worried whispers.  We had all been scared but be had tried to be brave for our friends.

About half of our table was already sitting down with the other half trickling in when one of our friends dashed in in tears.  I won’t put her name here to respect her privacy. Of course the rest of us immediately huddled around her asking all at once what was wrong.

She told us that some boy had come up to her in the hallway and asked her angrily, “How could you do this to America?”

This friend was a Muslim and was wearing a hijab which I hadn’t really thought of as a big deal up until this point.  I was livid.  How could someone say something like that to my friend who I had never seen be anything but nice to everyone? How could someone make an 11 year old girl cry and feel okay about it? I tried to find a rational explanation, so I started asking her about a billion questions.

“Who was he? Did you know him? Could he have really said something else?” I thought maybe it was a mistake. Or maybe he was just doing it to be a jerk.  I was wrong.

“Some 8th grader.  I don’t know him.  Why would he say something like that? I love America.”

I felt totally helpless.  My friend was sitting here crying and there wasn’t really anything I could say to help.  Yes, that kid was a jerk.  He was 100% wrong and there was no reason for him to say that to her. Of course we knew she loved America, why wouldn’t she?  But we couldn’t tell her it wouldn’t happen again. I don’t know if that was the first time that something like that happened to her but I’m fairly certain it wasn’t the last. This sweet girl was growing up in a country where she was bound to face discrimination because of  her religion and as much as I wanted to protect her I could only do so much.

I wanted to find out who this boy was and shout at him and tell him how wrong he was.  I wanted to tell everyone.  I couldn’t understand how someone could think like that.  I was 11 and I didn’t know very much about the world.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that I’m choosing to tell this story now. In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris a lot of people are scared.  That’s reasonable, something terrible happened.  But please, don’t let your fear get in the way of your compassion.  Don’t direct your hate at people who aren’t really your enemies.

Those refugees who are desperately trying to escape Syria are running from the same people who are attacking the citizens of Paris.  These refugees are regular, everyday people. People just like you who are simply seeking safety and a place to live where they won’t be the next victims of violence.

It can be so easy to demonize others when you’re scared, but before you say something next time please stop and take a closer look at the situation and think before you speak. It may be that the person you think is an enemy is actually just a young girl who just wants to hang out with her friends at lunch.  She’s not scary at all and your harsh words will hurt her more than you will ever know.