Today as I drove through Centerville, Ohio, with Charlottesville, Virginia, on my mind, I passed a woman and her children enjoying a public park. They strolled near a pond, breaking pieces of bread and tossing them to a flock of ducks. The kids squealed with delight (as did the ducks).
My very first thought: “I don’t think you’re supposed to feed bread to ducks anymore. I read somewhere lettuce is healthier.”
My second thought, which came much later: “She’s wearing a full, black burqa in August. That must be hot in the sun! Good thing it’s breezy today.”
This is how it’s supposed to work, right? This is how you should react to people who might dress a little different than you, worship a different God, hold a birth certificate from a different nation, or speak broken English.
Maybe it helped that this wasn’t my first time encountering a full burqa in Ohio. Because of exchange programs at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, tech jobs with base contractors, and educational opportunities at Wright State University and the University of Dayton, the Miami Valley actually has a robust international population. There’s a ginormous mosque in Beavercreek.
My joke is that The Greene is the brunch spot of choice for the Real Housewives of the Middle East and Central Asia, because it’s not unusual at all to see a woman donning an Afghan burqa (the blue kind) there or to see an SUV in the parking lot with UAE state department license plates. The last time I went to that Panera, a group of five women wearing hijabs were laughing and chattering away in Arabic, and they all had a copy of the same book in their hands. That’s right. Book club. Just like my girlfriends enjoy.
How different are these women from the Amish, German Baptist, and Mennonite ladies I encounter all over the Miami Valley? They also shop at the malls, dine out with friends, take their children to the MetroParks, and — shocker — attend the Air Show, all while wearing long dresses and head coverings. Many of us look to such Anabaptist women and think, “How quaint. Her dress is lovely. It must be nice to lead a more simple life.” Double standard?
I’m sure there’s some higher level where I wouldn’t have noticed the woman’s full black burqa today at all, but I didn’t see it and recoil in fear. I didn’t worry that “her kind” is hell bent on ruining “our country.”
Instead, I noticed a mother spending time outdoors with her children on a glorious afternoon. And, as I continued on my drive, I remembered the rather astute words of the character Ragnar Lothbrok from Vikings: “I hope that someday our gods can become friends.”
Maybe someday — if we all try to see the commonalities in our daily lives — our neighbors will become friends as well.
Prayers for Charlottesville. Prayers for the guy in Kroger today with the swastika tattooed on his neck. Prayers for the woman in the burqa. And, while we’re at it, prayers for the ducks — who really should be eating more lettuce.