When I was 18 years old I spent eight weeks overseas.
Eight weeks of serving and exploring and learning and growing.
Eight weeks that – although this is cliché –changed my life. From the minute I returned from those eight weeks, I began to make decisions that would completely alter my life course.
The last night of my time there, though, was one of the most frightening nights of my entire life.
My cousin was on the trip with me and we had learned how to get by without being noticed. We didn’t make much eye contact with strangers, were neither too friendly nor too rude, and tried not to draw attention to ourselves.
We did everything we were taught and the summer went by without many incidents.
Until that last night.
There was a group of men who would sit outside of our apartment every day, and they would watch us leave in the morning and come back in the evening.
They would say things when we would pass, but we never felt threatened. We simply went about our business, pretending they were not there.
Until that last night.
On that last night one of the men stood up and stepped in front of us as we tried to pass.
“Americans, yes?” he said.
We kept our eyes down and tried to pass him, and he blocked us again.
“American girls, yes?”
We didn’t respond, but quickly stepped around him and hurried into our apartment, hearing his taunting laugh as we shut and locked the door.
For the next two hours we heard shouts and calls about the Americans.
After that, he started pounding on the window of our room, shouting that he wanted some love from the Americans.
At one point he actually broke into the apartment, ranting about getting to the Americans. Our host family pushed him out and called the police, and told us to stay locked in the room.
An hour or so later the shouting and pounding on the window resumed, and continued until three or four in the morning.
During the entire night my cousin and I were barricaded in our room. We sat huddled together, praying and singing, completely terrified.
It was one of those experiences that you never, ever forget.
Here in the United States, I don’t know what it’s like to be a minority.
I am a white, Christian woman. I am very much in the middle of the road when it comes to politics – you know, liberal enough to annoy my conservative friends, and conservative enough to annoy my liberal friends. I am straight, and happily married.
So I don’t know what it’s like to feel like I don’t fit in here.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color in this country, because I am not a person of color.
I don’t know what it’s like to not be a member of the dominant religion, because I am a member of the dominant religion.
I don’t know what it’s like to be gay, because I am not gay.
And I am not going to pretend that I do know what it’s like.
But what I do know is that I remember that night when I was 18 years old. I remember how it felt.
So when I see my Muslim neighbor, I try to smile and nod hello. Because I remember what it felt like when I was threatened.
When I drive by a group of men, desperately searching for work so they can provide a better life for their families, I try to feel compassion. Because I remember what it felt like to be mocked.
When I see people feeling hurt and angry, wondering if their sexual identity makes them less of a person, I try to listen and reassure. Because I remember what it felt like when I was seen as nothing but a sexual object.
I know that things are a mess right now. I see the news. I read the stories.
I scroll through the Facebook posts.
And do you know what I see? I see anger and fear. I see hate and hysteria.
I see mistrust, misrepresentation, and misinformation.
I see each “side” firmly convinced that they are right.
I see people feeling threatened.
I see people mocked for feeling threatened.
I see people longing for safety.
I see people mocked for longing for safety.
And it makes me sad.
So very, very sad.
And I want to do something. I want to fix it.
But I can’t. I can’t control what other people do – or do not do.
I can’t control what other people say – or do not say.
But I can control me.
And I will keep trying to smile, listen, and reassure. I will keep trying to feel compassion.
I will try to escape the fear, avoid the hate, and see through the lies.
It’s not easy, and I often fail.
So many times I react without thinking and respond without reason.
But I will not stop trying.
Because I can’t forget that night.
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31
See you soon.