I used to be kinda like Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality – all cynic and tough girl and “bah-humbug, world peace is just a fluffy dream for beauty queens.”
But it turns out smart girls like Sandra and me still have a few things to learn.
Over Easter weekend, I was visiting with some of my relatives out on the family farm when one of my aunt’s Afghan friends stopped by. She brought along her mother who spoke no English but insisted on getting her picture taken with everyone. When she landed in the U.S. a few months ago, they kept this little old lady in interrogation for five hours. Now she’s learning the English alphabet by copying out the letters she sees sprawled across her daughter’s TV screen.
After lots of bantering in English and Dari, during which at least one of us was obliged to be lost in the lack of translation, the two Afghan women wished us a Happy Easter and headed home. They left for us a container of homemade yogurt and a plate of the most amazing fried, potato-filled pastries wrapped in greasy newspaper. Delighted by the prospect of fresh Afghan food, I ran to make the tea.
It wasn’t until later that night that something my cousin said got me thinking about what had actually happened that afternoon. She had asked if it was a normal thing, for Afghan Muslims to bring their American Christian friends food for Easter. And if that was something a Christian would do for a Muslim’s religious holidays.
Having grown up in a Muslim country, this generosity and hospitality were so natural to me that I had thought nothing of the gesture. And yet I couldn’t remember a time when we had taken treats to our Muslim friends at Eid. Perhaps we did and I don’t remember, or perhaps we didn’t and should have.
But the real point is, someone did something.
The only thing is that it was a gesture so simple, so culturally routine that I almost didn’t get the message. And the message is not about religion. It’s not about your holiday or my holiday or whether I even celebrate holidays. It’s not about what language you speak, what clothes you wear, or whether you’re a cynical FBI agent or a peace-loving beauty queen.
What it’s really about is how we’re all just human, even when we don’t understand each other’s language or we don’t understand each other’s beliefs or priorities. It’s about saying our differences don’t really mean anything in comparison to our common humanity. Because in the end, we’re all pretty much the same. We’re all born butt naked. We all laugh and we all cry. We’re all victims and we’re all villains. And in the end we’re all going to end up a pile of bones or ashes.
What is really striking, though, is that stories like this are happening all around us. And just like this story almost passed me by, you might not even see it until someone else asks a question that makes you see it. If we take the time to look around and see the small acts of kindness that are bridging man-made barriers all the time, maybe we won’t give so much credit to the sensational media that make their money off the very conflicts that keep those barriers standing in the first place.
If people like Muslims and Christians can be friends and offer loving acts of kindness to each other, then there is still reason to hope for world peace. If a bunch of beauty queens can become besties with a tough FBI agent, then anything can happen. And if Sandra Bullock can wish for world peace, then so can I.