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Please keep smiling

For several years, I worked next to a mosque. Its parking lot often overflowed on Fridays and religious holidays; on such days, my company’s owners permitted its congregants to park in the company parking lot.

Once, I saw women step out of a car and cover themselves for service. I smiled on my way into the office. They smiled back.

Many times, I walked by women already covered. I’d smile at each, if she looked at me; much more often than not, I’d see eyes wrinkling from smiles returned.

(Seeing mouths isn’t the most important thing to seeing smiles.)

After exchanging such smiles one afternoon, I remembered a conversation with a male friend years before and hundreds of miles away.

“You’re not supposed to look at them when they’re dressed like that!” he’d told me. I replied that I’d never heard such a thing, and that I’d keep greeting human beings as human beings.

I posted about the new smile and the old conversation on Facebook. “Please keep smiling,” one Muslim friend soon replied. 

I committed to doing so.

A year ago, I saw a Muslim family on a plane and just about broke into a cold sweat.

I came to my senses soon enough. Warm smiles were exchanged that day, too. 

When I returned home, I told my husband, “Fearmongering works!”

(I vow now not to let it.)

“Yep.” he replied. “That’s why they use it.”

Protesting at LAX last weekend, I saw many women wearing hijabs. In all the hubbub, I only spoke with two. I was tired and ineloquent as I greeted them with my two-year-old on my hip, but they were lovely.

“Ugh, I’m saying all the wrong things,” I mumbled a couple minutes into conversation. Both women, Sara and Hannah, said no, no, no; Hannah’s face was especially aglow with compassion that filled me with a sense of okay-ness.

Maybe I didn’t say the right words. Maybe there are no right words.

What I do know is that I said I’d keep smiling.

I meant it,

and I will.


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