While we are focusing on our OWN attitudes of being thankful to and for other people and conditions and things, it is important to remember something:
we ourselves may be a source of thankfulness in other people’s lives.
This was brought home to me last night as I was having dinner with dear friends.
We are friends on Facebook in addition to IRL (In Real Life). We had not seen each other in real life for a while, but we’d all been in contact on Facebook every day.
Here’s the background of the story about what happened last night, when we met in real life for the first time in a long time.
I started wearing hijab in 2011, while studying overseas. When I returned home, I started posting a picture of my daily hijab look on Facebook. It was a fun way to help people get used to my new look, to celebrate my fashion triumphs, and also to take some of the feeling of strangeness out of wearing hijab.
For many of my friends and family, I am the only Muslim they know. They only hear about Muslims or hijab in negative, stereotypical ways.
My goal in posting my daily hijab look on Facebook was part fashion fun, and part societal awareness.
My friends at dinner last night, none of whom are Muslims, started talking about my Facebook posts. They mentioned that they look forward to seeing my daily hijab pic in their newsfeed every day. They said that they got a kick out of the names I make up for my outfits, like “Mocha latte fantasy” or “Caribbean Sunset” or “Strawberry Swirl”.
One friend said that when she sees my picture, it makes her feel like, “Hey, I am psyched to get myself put together and get out there!”
I can’t tell you what a wonderful experience it was to hear this!
The daily pictures were my own response to the feeling of strangeness and fear I had in wearing hijab when I first got back to the States after a year abroad. Overseas, wearing hijab was just normal. Wearing a hijab in the Middle East is like being a soccer mom in Southern California: a sign that you are a nice lady that other nice ladies would want to have lunch with.
Wearing a hijab in southern California, however, will get you stared at in horror by three year olds.
How do three year olds learn to be afraid, so fast?
So I started the hijab Facebook photo project as a way to make sure that my own friends and family were not afraid of me, based on random strangers that they saw doing horrible things on the news.
I never expected the benefits that I was hearing at last night’s dinner party though.
I didn’t realize that my friends were getting OTHER benefits that I had not even intended, or realized were there.
My pictures were giving them a feeling of optimism and hope about getting dressed themselves, and facing their day. My pictures were giving them a sense of humor and beauty and playfulness and love, in an area where too much of what we hear on the news is about conflict and ugliness and hate.
Although I hadn’t realized it, the underlying message in my hijab pics was getting through: be courageous in the face of despair. Get up and get dressed and put your best face forward. Get out there and be fabulous, no matter what. Be playful and gracious and creative and fun.
Share with your friends and family and have faith that they are receiving the message.
Have faith that small efforts, done daily over a long period of time, ARE reaching people and DO make a difference.
Have faith that YOUR struggle, your challenge, whatever it is, also speaks to others, especially if you can model gracious ways of handling it.
I was blown away by my friends’ comments. I was deeply honored, moved, and touched.
In truth, I had been a bit selfish in my Facebook image posts. It took me a lot of time and effort (and laundry, and a whole chest of drawers to store the scarves), to put these looks together every day. I was proud of getting it together and coming up with a nice look that worked for me, and I (selfishly, I thought) wanted to share that small daily moment of success, with my friends and family.
Look Ma! I got dressed today, and I named this outfit “Rainbow sunset delight”.
Little did I know that day by day, I was setting an example. I was encouraging people. I was creating a little package of inspiration and creativity and hope, that others would look forward to receiving.
It was deeply meaningful to hear that from my friends, and it made me realize something:
We all affect each other in ways we don’t realize.
So whatever your light is, don’t be shy. Share it.
Someone else may need your light to read by.
Someone else may need YOUR light, to illuminate the path ahead of THEM.
Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Get out there and shine.
In doing so, you may be a source of thankfulness for someone else.