How listening to one story brought me to Mourn at a Mosque

The Power of a Single Story

“There were so many more cars in our Mosque parking lot than usual that the neighbors called the police. When the police walked into our potluck and asked us what was going on. I said, “ It's our friends, that's all. The overflowing parking lot was from so many community members showing up to tell us they support us after the 2016 election results. The overflowing parking lot wasn’t from something suspicious going on it was from supporters. Who wanted to show us love after the presidential election that put fear into our community with narratives of muslims registry  and muslim bans.”

She laughed as she told me this story. Her face beamed while she recounted how the police faces registered shock when they walked through the door,  to see them surrounded by a hundred friends from the community. Three years later, Samaira is retelling this story to me because it meant something to her. It gave her a handle of  hope to hold onto even as the headlines told her otherwise. Listening to Samaira one story showed me that headlines aren’t the most powerful thing, people are.

When I woke up to the news of 49 people praying in their house of worship were massacred, I felt my breath drain out of me. Thinking of my muslim teammates who already had woken up to this violence. Already had to face what I wasn’t ready to yet. How can human beings believe they have the right to execute another person? Granting themselves the power to be the Judge, Jury and executioner all in one? Sinking back into my pillow, truth stopped me in my tracks.  I know how.

It’s in me.

It’s the one sided story I consume that doesn’t allow another person to be good, the way I’ve been told I’m good. Whether the goodness has been handed to me because of my religion, my color or my country. If I’m good, then it automatically puts the other person in the position of bad.This means I deserve something that someone else doesn’t. Headlines creep in and color the canvas of how I see others. Unchallenged and disconnected these headlines weave a web of assumptions and judgements. Headlines hide the human affected by my biases. And then  violence erupts and I lay in my bed wondering where this violence comes from?

It comes from me.

Samira’s story told me the power of one person showing up to support her muslim community. It invited me to see the power of one, not a group, not a church not political party, or  bumper sticker activism or theology. Would I start to see my own humanity woven into this story of violence and hope?

It wasn’t a group, even though the  news said so. Three snowy white haired ladies who linked arms getting out of the car, bracing themselves to walk across the sheet of ice that passed for the parking lot. March in Minnesota requires  ice skates to get around when the daytime melt pours skating rinks where the parking lots used to be.

It wasn’t a group, just a text to a friend while walking out the door to get my kids to their appointments. “ I’ve got the kids and can’t go, but I can throw an invite up on Facebook.” That’s how three elderly women who’ve committed themselves to showing up to comfort and mourn with those affected by gun violence no matter what the weather ended up standing next to three of my friends, two people I’ve never met and my two elementary schoolers. This was the hodge-podge welcome committee standing with signs saying “ Muslims are our Brothers and Sisters”, flowers bunched up in our arms, with bright balloons and hugs and a sidewalk with barely legible blue scrawls that read We love you.

“Tears came to my eyes for the support we got here.

We felt so lucky to be part of this community,” said Naeem Chaudhry.

He saw ten people in puffy winter coats, a hodgepodge of ages and unrelated lives. This is the power of one. Your one voice, your one phone call, yourself showing up. One text to a friend when the pain of the headline of violence is pinning your body to the bed. Suffocating your hope.

I don’t believe that we need numbers, or groups. We need to know the power of love showing up when people are hurting.

I believe in us.

In the power of elementary schoolers and sidewalk chalk, in the power of white haired wonders, and all of us ordinary people in between. Holding different religions, cradling different pains and choosing each other regardless of agreement.

Naeem put his arms around my son’s as we left, “thank you for being with us” he choked out, “especially today.” Standing together he said “There is so much misunderstanding of Muslims, if there is anyone in your circles who doesn’t understand who we are I’m here to talk with them. I’d like to get to know them.”

Even after violence, his hands are open, he is seeking to extend himself to those who don’t see him as a friend or neighbor.

I believe in the power of one.

One act of kindness.

One story listened to.

One person holding a sign of love.

Diana Oestreich