She met my Vans instead of my compassion, and for that — I apologize
My brand new Vans skidded the Paris streets just a few days ago while my eyes searched the skyline for the sights. The tourist in me yearned for the familiarity of the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre. I wanted to do things differently this time though — I mean I was in the country that contrived the word passé. So, I found a little cute bakery next to the Arts et Métiers subway stop in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris, and I quickly became furnished with a mozzarella, basil, and pesto sandwich that was encapsulated by a french baguette and a gourmet chocolate chip cookie for later. I left the blue and black embroidered shop with the usual pep in my step that my friends always tease me about. There was something that felt so at home about Ernest & Valentine, but suddenly I fell into a space that was characterized by its foreignness.
Old hands, wrinkles of love, and human cries lined the streets everywhere I looked. I walked faster. I avoided eye contact. I did what I was taught to do. The lines played in my head over and over. “They’ll just use it for drugs and alcohol.” “They’re working for the mafia.” “They did it to themselves.”
I reflected then though upon a scene of a movie I’d watched on the flight over — Whisky Tango Foxtrot. I didn’t expect to be transformed by a Tina Fey comedy, in fact, I had anticipated that I’d be repulsed by the movie given its seemingly grotesque caricature of the Middle East. That wasn’t the case though because my mind fixated on a singular human interaction in the film. A helpless boy crouched sullenly on the streets of Afghanistan begging, and suddenly he broke the eggs that he was carrying. Naturally, Tina Fey’s character gave the kid what she had in her pocket in an act of compassion. Some time later though, she saw him pull the same trick, and was enraged at him for his deception. Later, she was with her main love interest who worked in that area and he handed the boy a wad of cash, and she was once again furious. He responded with, “Don’t you get it? He’s still begging,” and in that one passing phrase — I realized I’d lost a part of my humanity.
I talk a good game. I advocate for social justice and equality. I’ve had the chance to sit down and talk to high profile people about empathy, but yet — the beggars on the streets of Paris met my Vans hurriedly fleeing their plight instead of my compassion.
So, I stopped in my tracks. I reached into my bag and gave a hijabi women shaking on the street in that same posh district that same cookie from before, and with a genuine, “Ramadan Mubarak,” I’d found a piece of myself that I’d somehow lost, but oh so needed.