Image Source: Sara Shagam via Flickr
On Friday, my Smartner and I arrived a little early to pick our kids up from school. We sat in the car, finishing our late lunch and chatting about our morning. As we sat and talked, a man got out of the large, black truck parked across the street from us and looked around expectantly. He stood there for a moment, having seen us, and I wondered if he’d arrived a little too early to pick up his kids as well.
He opened the back doors of his truck and dug around in the back, then emerged with a prayer rug in hand.
The man crossed the street and stepped onto the sidewalk just a car length in front of us. He looked around, catching my eye. I smiled to him and he looked away, but stayed where he was. He unrolled his prayer rug on the damp sidewalk and faced the qibla in front of an apartment building entrance.
An unremarkable location for a remarkable act.
He removed his shoes, and moved his feet to the rug, looking up toward my Smartner and me again. We both smiled and nodded in a friendly way, but turned to each other, wondering what to do. Here was a neighbor we don’t yet know—a Muslim man looking for a space to pray in the middle of a city neighborhood. As much as we wanted to stay and watch this lovely intimate ritual, it didn’t feel right. This was a moment that belonged to him. And he was nervous. Not vividly so, but it was clear in the way he looked around. How could he not be in our country right now?
I wanted him to know he was safe. An assurance I can’t honestly make. But I wanted him to know that we meant him only respect and safety. We got out of the car as quietly as we could as he brought his hands together in front of him, quietly speaking the words of his prayer.
We walked away as he brought his forehead to the prayer rug and we turned the corner, crossing the street to the elementary school our sons and his sons attend. I wondered aloud if this is part of every afternoon for him—trying to find a space near the school that feels safe enough for prayer. I wondered aloud what any other Seattle parent would do if they turned the corner and found a Muslim man in prayer on the sidewalk. I hope that they would give him the space and the respect he deserves. I hope they would smile and nod, show him the kindness we attempted to communicate. I hope they would recognize the beauty of that moment. The combination of trust and faith it takes to pray on the sidewalk in the middle of an American city. It was such a brief interaction—we happened upon this moment of human beauty—but it colored my day. At that same time that I felt all the horrific events of the world wash over me, I felt a surge of hope. I felt that perhaps there is hope for this country one day after all. As we stood waiting for our kids to be dismissed, the man came slowly across the street and stood not far from where we waited. Just seconds later, our kids were dismissed and they came streaming out of the building, four of his children running to him as our two ran to us.
Different, but not.
I hope we can learn, as a country, to be together again. I hope we stop operating out of fear. I hope we can see the beauty in our differences instead of trying to crush them. I hope our children, in their shared school, learn from our mistakes. I hope they do better things with the world when it’s in their hands.