Sometimes feelings overpower words…
As a writer, I like to pen things I’m not only passionate about, but that takes my emotions and feelings and electrifies them. I write because sometimes when I’m in the middle of two different cultures in a world surrounded by silence I like to think that if nothing else, at least paper is willing to listen to what I have to say. Or my mind is trying to reassure my heart that there’s a reason why society is the way it is, why I am the way I am, why circumstances happen the way they do.
About a month ago, I started wearing the hijab. And this isn’t me writing to say how it was real eye-opener. How I was so glad I started to wear it because it provided me a connection to my religion. How I was able to find a missing piece of my identity and realize that all the horrifying situations I had imagined turned out to be nothing more than just anxious thoughts.
This is about me facing fear and discrimination beyond anything I’ve ever known. This is about me being terrified to walk out of the house because I didn’t know what people would say today. This is about me waking up everything morning, holding the scarf in my hand and seriously questioning how long I would be able to stay strong before I broke down.
And I really did try to brush the comments and glances off. Whenever my parents asked me how university went, I replied to them with a curt, “fine.” And left it at that. Sometimes I would tell them about how eccentric or funny my professors were. Or how interesting the material was. But then they would start asking me about friends. They would start asking where I went in between classes. What I did. If I made friends with people. That’s when I walked away. How could I tell them that when I sat down, people moved away? How could I tell them that some people went as far as to ignore me or muttered comments about Islam under their breath? How could I tell them that I had stopped taking the train to downtown because when I was on the platform a guy started yelling about how awful Muslims were.
Because I knew what they would say. They would say that it’s nothing. That I should just leave it. And that alone showed that even they knew we couldn’t even chose to respond or defend ourselves for fear of repercussions.
And it’s not as if I think everyone feels this way. Some of my friends stayed because they honestly didn’t care what was on my head as I stayed the way I was. Some of my teachers said nothing more than that I looked different and then continued on their conversation. Some honestly don’t care because they know that not everyone is the same, and there’s more to a person then what the media relates to the world.
I believe humanity to be good wholeheartedly. I will never stop believing that because I’ve seen it so many times that for me to lament bitterly about how everyone who is not Muslim is horrid and is frankly ridiculous and disgusting. I love people’s generosity, people’s kindness, their ability to start up a conversation at the checkout lane and joke around.
But not everyone is like that. Just like I’ve had friends who’ve stayed, I’ve also had former friends who turned away when they saw me. Just like I’ve seen kindness, I’ve seen hatred. Just like I’ve heard nice words, I’ve heard words filled with hatred. And I tell myself every morning that today will be better, that maybe today it won’t be so bad.
And you know what, some days it isn’t. Some days there are no rude comments, just loneliness and silence. Some days there are no scathing looks, just downturned gazes.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Why do you care what’s happening to me if you don’t know me? Maybe you hate the fact that discrimination exists, and this is me taking your side. Or maybe you’re one of those people who think that I deserve what I get, that I am paying the price for people I have never met who decided to hurt innocent lives.
I write because I’m begging you to listen. I write because I want to know that when I go out in the morning, I am not one against millions. I write because sometimes it feels like the only way I can now speak.
Over the last month, I’ve stopped going to a lot of places I loved. I tend not to come out of the house unless I’m accompanied by my sister. Shopping, reading, going for food, I stopped it all. I gave the excuse that I’m just lazy, but even those who don’t know me are able to reasonably guess why I’ve stopped.
There was still one place left though.
I grew up between all the books, and every time I walk in I feel like I’m entering a second home. I love its silence, its books, the fact that people come there to learn or study and somehow we’re all connected in this sphere of knowledge even if we never speak to each other. I felt safe there.
As a university student, it’s natural that I have assignments and papers. But I can never focus at home, and so whenever I needed peace and quiet, I packed up all my stuff, grabbed something to eat, and drove over to the library.
I would walk in and find a seat at a table that faced the window, so you could see all the drifting red and gold leaves, and beyond that you could see the road. I would then proceed to lay out all my stuff, open my laptop, and start to work.
And today was just like any other time I had gone. The surrounding tables around me were empty. Ironically, my paper was supposed to be about the link between religion and education. The table behind me was empty, and as I was working, a man came up and started slamming books down on the table really loudly. He was saying something but I had my headphones in so it came across as indistinct mumbling.
The song ended, and I froze as I heard the word “Islam” come out of his mouth contemptuously. In the corner of my eye, I could see he had a baby cradled in one arm while he slammed books down angrily with the other.
“Daddy is going to see how evil Islam is in history. That’s right. I’m going to find all of the history about how evil Islam is.” And that’s all he would say, over and over again. I tried to reassure myself that he wasn’t saying it because I was near, even though his voice echoed loudly in the silent space
I didn’t dare move as he stood there ranting, too afraid he would decide a direct approach was more appropriate to express his opinions.
After he walked away-presumably to get more books-I turned halfway to see what texts he had gotten that would prove his subject matter.
There was nothing on the table.
And suddenly, everything seemed like too much. I remembered all the other remarks, glares, and loudly voiced comments. I remembered people moving away and friends cutting off contact. And my eyes started to burn and the space that had always seemed like home seemed large and terrifying. I felt like I was going to be sick and I quickly packed up everything.
I had only been there for fifteen minutes.
But I couldn’t take it and as I walked out of the library the tears started streaming down my face. I wasn’t angry as much as I was upset. It was as if the world was punishing me for a crime I didn’t commit, and I didn’t know how I would be able to spend the rest of my life living like this.
I was spiralling into a full blown meltdown and I was so upset that for a few minutes I was trying to unlock a car before finally realizing that it wasn’t even my car but my panic and blurry vision didn’t allow me to see properly. A man had just come out of his own car, and he glanced my way before walked past me. He stopped and hesitated, and changing his mind, walked back over to me.
I looked at him terrified, my mind already prepared for the comments he would give. But all he asked was if I was okay, if he could call someone for me. And he didn’t leave at my first answer. He stayed for a few minutes, asking again and again as I gave the same answer that everything was fine- even though my expression clearly indicated something different. But I didn’t want him to be burdened by my problem. I didn’t know what he would think when I would tell him what would happen. I was too scared to even ask for help.
He finally nodded and left to go into the library and I unlocked my own car and sat in my seat. After locking the car, I just sat there crying for a few minutes, unable to get the situation out of my head.
I called my dad and he grew alarmed as he heard my sobbing. He kept asking me what was wrong and I told him before deciding that I was going to go home. I just couldn’t do it anymore. The accumulation of events that had happened over the past few weeks just hit me and my heart felt like it had shattered.
I loved the library. More than anything. More than any place in the world.
And I will go back one day. I will still see the way knowledge flows. I will still see the leaves and the road. But every time I see that table, I will hear that man’s words. And I know that even though things can remain beautiful after a bad experience, they are now forever tainted by that memory.
I love humanity.
I love people.
I’m just don’t know how to be strong enough.