“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.”
― Carlos Fuentes
I have always been a sincerely empathetic person; it gets the best and worst of me. Yesterday, the empathy I felt triggered both parallels. I evaluated who I was because of one nine-year-old girl, and thought deeply about how I could be more like her.
I boarded my first flight of the day completely exhausted. There were two girls sitting next to me. The women, no more than 25, sitting on the aisle was carrying three bags and looked utterly exhausted. The little girl, in the middle, was carrying a toy purse and an emoji pillow. I glanced over and noticed extreme scarring on the little girl’s face. She was blind, and it was obvious it was from an accident.
I reached over and grabbed her hand and asked her name. The women on the aisle (for sake of privacy, let’s call her June) translated my English into Arabic, and the little girl responded with a huge smile and she held my hand: Amira. (for sake of privacy, the little girl will be referred to as Amira, meaning princess in Arabic. She had been working on her princess walk for the past week, so it seems fitting).
I introduced myself in return, and Amira asked June to describe what I looked like and what I was wearing. Amira responded saying I was the most beautiful person she had ever met. At this point, you could say my heart was overflowing already.
Amira and I played. A lot. Her sweet laughter and loud voice keep everyone on the plane awake, but no one minded.
As June and I started talking, I learned Amira’s story: she was a Syrian refugee. Two years earlier, her older brother was shot next to her and the metal and debris from the shots covered her face. She lost her sight immediately. She fled to Turkey after four months in the hospital, and an organization (contact me for details here) brought her to America to undergo surgery for her eyes and to remove the metal specks in her face. Her parents were supposed to come to America with June but were rejected at customs. This week was Amira’s first week in America. And as June explained, it was her first week of safety and her first week without her family.
“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”
― Warsan Shire
Upon hearing this, my heart ached. I looked at Amira and told her she was an incredibly strong girl. Amira responded by saying “why wouldn’t I be?”. At this point, I felt the need to share something with Amira. She showed again and again that her culture was rooted in sharing: she gave me her chocolate, her American Airlines wing badge, and just about anything she could. I took the bracelet my friend Shaye made for me and tied it around her wrist.
“I will never forget you, and I will never take this bracelet off.” That was the first time on this flight that I teared up.
As the flight progressed, I saw more and more of who Amira was. Sassy as heck, selfless, and hilarious. She told me that she already is a princess, so when she grows up, she wants to be a singer. That prompted a bunch of Arabic songs I tried to sing along to, and the English ABC’s – in which she learned in two days after missing two years of grade school (thoroughly impressive).
After a ton of playing and talking through translation, Amira put the armrest up, covered me in her blanket, put her emoji pillow on my lap, and laid down on me and fell asleep; it was an act of complete tenderness and innocence. I played with her hair until she fell asleep, and then talked to June more.
June claimed she was exhausted. She underestimated how difficult it would be to take in a blind, foreign, child. She had learned so much from Amira in the short month of living with her but questioned herself often. I told June that she was changing lives, that I was praying deeply for her, and that she should never, not for a second, think that taking Amira in was an accident. To this, June gave me the sweetest compliment I had ever received; that was the second time I teared up.
Flashback to Pike Place Market in Seattle, where I went with my friends for a few hours. Of all the things I could have bought, I bought a miniature hand (no clue why bear with me) and a stone with the word “believe” written in braille on it.
Flash forward to the flight, where I remembered this stone. I pulled it out and gave it to Amira – she doesn’t know braille, but June teared up explained what a comfort stone was. Amira touched my face and said: “This treasure will never leave my side, I can’t wait to give you some of my toys in Turkey.” I smiled, telling her I couldn’t wait and then we played some more.
When leaving, Amira gave me a huge hug and a kiss on the check, telling me I was her best friend.
“We’re all stories, in the end.”
– Doctor Who
Moral of the story, you never know who the person next to you is. A neighbor, a widow, a child, a parent, someone injured, someone suffering, someone rejoicing, a refugee… Amira taught me many things: love is innocent, children are stronger than I will ever be, everyone is welcome and loved always, and life is about reaching out and looking within.
Amira’s story has become a part of me, and I know that our short friendship has become a part of her.
Our lives are stories, our actions build our character. Amira’s actions, despite immense trauma, reflected only love and joy. I hope to show Jesus’ love through my story and actions despite the religious and cultural differences (Amira was Muslim, as was June, but all three of us made note that we would be praying for one another).
For you, pray immensely for Amira’s recovery and June’s strength. If you would like to know others ways in which you could help, contact me, for real.
Note to self: Live like Amira. Learn more people’s stories; learn from them.
Until next time,