I went to Target this morning to pick up some emergency supplies for the apartment. Ah, how I miss the days of being a care-free little girl, always finding the supply closest brimming with reams of toilet paper just when I needed one. As I have come to learn, there is no such thing as a magic closet. C.S. Lewis made it all up!
As I began to unload my items on the conveyor belt at check-out, the cashier greeted me with a “Hello,” to which I responded in kind. I found this to be delightfully odd, because in my experience cashiers don’t ever say “Hello” until payment time, even though I know they’ve acknowledged my existence. Perhaps this man was friendlier than most?
Encouraged, I decided I would start a conversation (I am not usually one to make small talk). I asked the cashier how he was doing. No response. I was slightly taken aback.
Maybe he didn’t hear me.
Or maybe… it was my headscarf.
Maybe the “Hello” from earlier was some kind of employee requirement, I rationalized to myself. At that point, I no longer wanted to engage in any more conversation than was necessary. So I bowed my head down, dismayed, wanting to get out of that store as quickly as I could.
But as I went to hand him my cash, I noticed his name tag. Under his name, Thomas, it read “I am deaf.”
Immediately, I wanted to kick myself for assuming this man disliked me because of my religion. I instinctively said “Thank you” after he gave me my change, but then I realized, he can’t hear me! I tried to smile the biggest smile I could in that moment without looking like The Joker. I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to apologize for my thoughts. I wanted to compensate for my earlier judgement by being super friendly, but I wasn’t sure how to communicate with this man. I don’t know sign language and it would be an insult to him to try to pretend that I do. So I left it at that smile.
In the parking lot, as I loaded the bags into my car, I began to cry. I felt like such an idiot.
Throughout the day, I kept on thinking about Thomas. Perhaps because I am a singer, I thought about him more acutely than I might have otherwise. I can’t imagine a world without song. Maybe Thomas wasn’t born deaf. Maybe he has difficulty hearing. Whatever the case may be, I have in my possession something he is bereft of. And boy do I take it for granted.
But the ability to hear is not the only thing I take for granted. I can see. I can speak. I can walk. Suddenly, all my problems ceased to be problems at all.
The biggest take-away for me however is to not make snap judgements. That old adage about making assumptions? It’s an adage for good reason! Islamophobia is indeed a reality in our world. But this is no excuse. Automatically assuming that someone holds negative views about Muslims and Islam is something I have to fight against. I have to move past this negative rhetoric I find myself engulfed in.
After dhuhr prayer, I made a special prayer for this man and his family and asked God to bless him and make him stronger for all that he’s had to endure – his struggles and people like me, so absorbed in their own problems and unable to see beyond their personal line of sight.
I’ll most likely never see Thomas again, but I hope I never take for granted the lessons he’s taught me.