Friday, March 27, 2009

What a difference “Shukron” makes

Sometimes it is the little things that can have the most profound impact on you. I was on my way to a meeting at a conference in Boston, MA when I stopped off at a Dunkin' Donuts. One of the great sacrifices that moving to Rome, GA cost my family was a really good doughnut place. So, when I saw that big sign calling my name, I had to slip in.

While standing in line, I didn't have to think too much about my order (I judge a doughnut shop based on how well they do the simple glazed yeast—if they can't do that right, I don't have hope for much else). So, I turned my attention to the people working there. I noticed that all the individuals—male and female—seemed to be of Middle Eastern descent. When I got to the counter, my suspicions were confirmed. I noticed that "Muhammad" was taking my order, and on the other register was "Fatima." Since I traveled to Jordan last year, I am always happy for a chance to use the Arabic I learned (I am particularly proud of my Arabic rendition of "I don't speak Arabic"). Muhammad gave me my doughnut and my change, so I gratefully uttered "Shukron" ["Thank you"].

In that moment, something happened. The serious, "whose-next," not unfriendly, but all business look on Muhammad's face melted away. It was a remarkable transformation. His face warmed into a smile as he shared, "Afwan." As I left, I responded with "salam alaykum." And, he responded "alaykum salam."

I fully don't know all that happened in that moment. I do know that what started as a chance for me to show off 90% of my Arabic, turned into something much more profound. I can't begin to understand what life is like for a minority in this country. I can't begin to understand how difficult it would be to be a person of Middle Eastern descent in this country. Perhaps, some can live life without any issues whatsoever. Perhaps, many live life with a skeptical eye toward the world around them because of negative experiences they or their loved ones have had.

But, in that simple moment over a doughnut—what started out as me trying to show off—turned into Muhammad knowing that there was at least one white guy from the south who thought he was important enough to use his native language to thank him. It was amazing (though it shouldn't be surprising) what happens when you treat someone with respect. It was amazing what happens when the golden rule occurs right in front of you—"I know everyone in line expects you to speak their language, I just wanted to take a moment to speak some of yours."

I wish that I could earnestly say that I meant for that to happen. But, I imagine it is a greater testimony to the power of God that the divine can transform my rather simple motive, i.e., a chance to use some Arabic, into a profound statement of the worth of another human being. My prayer is that I am more sensitive too all people in all circumstances—that I can always take the time and spend the effort to learn the "language" of people wherever they are and witness the miracle of Pentecost when they hear that they are worth something.