On a downtown street in Lansing, Mich., a woman asked for our help. She was with her daughter, about 7 years old.
We could see in the woman’s eyes several things: warmth, strength, wariness. In the young girl’s, shyness. Perhaps fear.
The woman, about 30, wore a hijab. Her daughter had long, dark hair, uncovered.
There was a significant language barrier, but we managed to learn that they are from Syria and have been in the U.S. for seven months. They had walked from a nearby Catholic church, the woman said, to find Bus #5 to get to her appointment at a job-training agency.
She carried a folder with her. We walked, and I asked if there might be any information in it that could help us get them there.
As she pulled out a couple of forms from the job-training agency, I noticed a packet of penmanship worksheets, with the two solid lines and the dotted line in the middle, to help English learners make proper letters.
The agency’s forms didn’t have an address or phone number, so we asked around and were directed by a young man waiting at a stop on a different bus line.
He knew where to direct us, and as we walked away I kidded him about the rival outfits we wore — he a Detroit Tigers shirt, I a Boston Red Sox hat. He smiled, with his mouth and with his eyes.
Yes, the eyes.
We led the woman and her daughter a couple of blocks and pointed her toward the right bus stop. It was still a good distance away and I asked if we could drive her to the job-training agency.
I think the woman knew what I was asking, and she indicated they’d be fine walking. She smiled and I saw gratitude in her eyes.
We parted ways, and within moments any sense of my “do-gooder” validation gave way to anger.
My eyes welled up as I thought about the ignorant people in this country who hate this woman, hate her based on how she looks, how she dresses, how she worships.
I tried to imagine what horror this woman and child likely escaped in Syria. I marveled at the courage it takes to start over in a new country where so many people hate you. And knowing you can never go back home.
Those alphabet worksheets in her folder? I assumed they were the daughter’s, but I wonder — could they have been the mother’s?
Either way, this woman values education and is determined to learn, to succeed, to do whatever she must do for her child. I could see that in her eyes as well.
Yes, the eyes.
I put a lot of stock in what I see and feel when I look into people’s eyes. It’s “thin slicing,” I know, but my track record is pretty good. The Syrian woman’s eyes, and her daughter’s, have stayed with me since that day.
Here’s an eye test for you. Look at this short list of names below and visualize their eyes. Better yet, find several photos of each and take a good look.
I’m not going to post their pictures here because, for me, looking at those faces is like mainlining cortisol. My pulse races, my blood pressure rises, I get angry. I’m not pleasant to be around.
Going down the list, here’s what I see in those eyes: hatred; smarmy arrogance; chronic unhappiness; darkness; intellectual vacuousness and narcissism.
The word “kindness” doesn’t make the list.
To each of those Christian white men, I say there’s a Muslim woman from Syria and her 7-year-old daughter you should meet. Tell me, what will they see in your eyes?