By Besma Soltan
Thursday was a beautiful morning.
The weather was in the low 20s, sunny with a refreshing breeze.
I rushed to downtown Toronto for a meeting at an arts related organization to talk about an initiative for SPEAKout that has been in the works for almost a year now.
As I explained what the project is about, I added “The organization itself was initiated on the purpose of highlighting the points of overlap. There is so much more that connects us as humans than what separates us, and it’s all visible in our everyday lives, in the walk you take down the street, in the diversity you see everywhere you go.”
I walked down Queen Street after the meeting with a friend that had joined me for it, hands in my pockets, eyes on the pavement, focused on what she was saying from our discussion post meeting.
We both looked like backpackers, with summery comfortable clothes on, I with 3 over the shoulder bags (my everyday downtown portable office) and her with a big backpack.
Queen Street, for those who don’t know it, is filled with little stores of all various things you can think of, and a joy to walk down on and explore.
In the span of seconds, without even realizing what suddenly happened, a middle aged woman jumps from my right, yelling, “Take your hands out of your pocket! Don’t stare at me like that!”
She then tugs and pulls at my headscarf, pulling out one of the pins that secure it and leaving a visible hole in the fabric, and she shouted, “This is what Jesus told you to do!” and ran off.
My brain was still putting together what happened.
I looked at her in frustration and anger and yelled back that she has no right to do what she did, and that Jesus didn’t teach what she did either.
The woman didn’t look in the right state of mind.
The situation took me back two years, August 4th 2010.
I remember the day for it was a couple of days before an event SPEAKout had at the ROM.
I walked back to Union Station down Bay Street, Toronto’s Wall Street, after setting up some items for the event with other team members.
I had just received an article written about the event coming up, highlighting the diversity that exists and how it ties to what we see on the street.
After reading it, I jokingly said to a friend, “the only thing missing is a pop out of someone singing the anthem!”
A block away from the station, as I rushed (again – yes, I’m on the run often) to catch my train, a young woman in her 20s, stops me for money (a regular scene in downtown core).
I apologized and said I have no cash (which was the truth, regardless of my thoughts on her ability to get a job).
She responded with, “That’s what I get from a racist Muslim!”
The stories I have shared aren’t to show that Muslims are victims, or that ethnic groups and visible minorities living in Canada are marginalized and oppressed, regardless of the debate that can go under this topic.
The majority of my years living in this country I call “Home” have been filled with beautiful stories of people coming together and focusing on good.
I will always remember my first day of school here, when a group of girls gathered around the table of “the new girl”, welcoming her and asking her about herself.
The faces around me were from every color and shape that exists on the planet, illustrating not only who I will be surrounded by for the next year, but also the wisdom in the differences humans were created with.
The word “overlap” came into my life over 3 years ago and have been heavily used in my everyday vocabulary ever since.
It is the art of looking for the common grounds, the things that unite us.
A few weeks ago, a mentor said, “Overlap is good – building bridges is good – but the bridges have already been built. We just have to cross them now”
Don’t stand on either end of the bridge.
It might still be wobbly and unsecure, but there is a ground underneath that will hold you if you fall.
Hang on to its ropes, push your hands through and poke at any bubbles that surround it; dedicate a part of your life to others, for that part is what will live beyond your years in life.
Do more for everyone; you only grow richer with the more you give.
Besma Soltan is the Co-Founder & Business Director at SdotMedia and Co-Founder and General Manager at SPEAKout Organization for the Arts and Community Awareness