Commuting from New Jersey to New York, I’ve learned to stick to myself—to sit or stand in a tight space, with many other people around, and pretend they are not there. Sometimes I am content with this sense of individualism and independence, and other times I crave to engage.
I stumbled upon an invitation for interaction in the 42nd Street subway station. I noticed a man giving away free balloon animals, a colorful tiled mural, and then a table set up with posters reading “Free Henna”, “Free Quran”, and “Muslims Giving Back”. My eyes scanned a large banner with the word “Racism” crossed out.
Three Muslim women, wearing hijabs and full veils, were at the henna and Qaran table, dispelling negative stereotypes through simple, human interactions. I waited in the short line and then spent the next twenty-five minutes chatting with strangers, unexpectedly connecting with people from a different culture from my own.
I found myself wondering why avoiding connection is so easy to do in such a diverse, full city. In an effort to change this pattern, I placed my hand on the older woman’s knee as she drew a beautiful, brown design gently across my skin. It spanned from my left wrist to my fingernails—a flower, paisley, and little dots and lines.
How can you connect more with individuals and communities different from your own?