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A woman's strength

by: Maggie Rummel | New York, NY

I moved to the city last August in hopes of pursuing my dream of performing as well as fulfilling a desire for higher education. So moving from sunny, happy California to cold, humid, grumpy New York was a change. But, as a new-found New Yorker, I've luckily been able to acclimate to this crazy environment quite fast. Things like consciously choosing what shoes you are going to wear, because you'll be out of the house for most likely 10+ hours a day; or buying your groceries in minimal amounts because you only have a mini fridge; or knowing the whole subway system like the back of your hand and being able to become that fly on the wall passing through the lives of hundreds of different people each minute. I'm getting it. In a city of millions, NYC can definitely make you seem so small. However, so many things have happened that make me feel so big, so connected to everyone around me and so empowered, that I have walked away from the situation more proud of myself and the life I've decided to lead while in NYC. 

"In a city of millions, NYC can definitely make you seem so small. However, so many things have happened that make me feel so big, so connected to everyone around me and so empowered, that I have walked away from the situation more proud of myself and the life I've decided to lead..."

You have probably seen the latest viral video of a woman defending a Muslim woman wearing a hijab on the subway in Sydney, Australia. The main thing that astonished me in this video was how only one person had the courage to stand up in this woman's defense - I know my loud voice would've been heard if I was in that car. Second thing is that something like this is actually still happening, that ignorance this extreme still exists right in front of us.

The words “don’t judge a book by its cover,” words most of us can remember hearing while growing up, is still such a needed dialogue. I grew up in what most would call a “bubble,” completely surrounded by people too narrow minded to understand anything other than their own norm. Because of this, I have strived my whole life to be as accepting as possible, and to really “never judge a book by its cover.” It pains me when I hear stories similar to this one, where someone so innocent can be accosted for who and what they associate with. It's hard for me to picture the world in such bad light - you kind of force yourself to see the good, or at least I do. And when you can't force yourself anymore, you do something about it.

I was on the subway. The train was packed because of crazy delays on the 6 line. Typical. This has become a theme in my life; I have to leave an hour early just to get to a location 30 min away, on time. All of a sudden, a drunk homeless woman squeezed through the crowded subway car (Note: just so everyone is aware: this post is in no way aimed at looking down to the less fortunate, but is for bringing to light real circumstances that happen on a daily basis).

Seeming to just want to move past the car looking for anything she can find, you could smell the hard alcohol oozing through her veins as she squeezed on. In this instance I usually give whatever I have in my bag; never money, just snacks and stuff. I actually leave the house with extra just so I can give some away. As she squeezed passed me, I sat down. I thought she was getting off. She ended up stopping a few seats down from me. I see her bend down and get into someone's face. The homeless woman began pointing at what looked to be a person’s head. Then began saying stuff about bombs and calling who ever this innocent person was, a terrorist. So my nosey self moved forward in my chair to see what was happening.

"It's hard for me to picture the world in such bad light - you kind of force yourself to see the good, or at least I do. And when you can't force yourself anymore, you do something about it."

The homeless woman was accosting a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, with her two little daughters. I couldn't believe it. I thought back to the video. Was this seriously happening? Immediately a random woman squeezed herself in between the Muslim woman to make a barrier. But that didn't help. The drunk homeless woman kept yelling, now raising her voice and starting to grab at the Muslim woman. I soon got up to help, meanwhile the homeless woman kept talking nonsense. Not too long after two others joined us. A line of four strong women of all different backgrounds came together in respect and to fight for someone's deserved freedom and peace.

It was a saddening realization. This experience was probably not this woman's first. Seeing this made me see how just being Muslim or wearing a hijab is like a target for those who are ignorant all over the world.  It was a sad and simultaneously amazing feeling to know all four of us women banding together in empowerment. We all just stood there, strong but silent, not saying anything. We didn't say a word, but I knew we were saying everything we needed to just by standing there.

The subway dinged as we came to our stop at Grand Central.  The doors opened, we continued to stay strong in silence, building a wall for the Muslim woman and her family to get off.  We shared a common smirk of "good job", then made our way back in the car, moving back to our original spots.  The drunken woman began accosting us, calling us terrorists for associating with the woman. But that nonsense was drowned out in my mind. I felt good. I thought I had done the right thing and I felt a little bit happier that I was able to help.

"We all just stood there, strong but silent, not saying anything. We didn't say a word, but I knew we were saying everything we needed to just by standing there."

For me, what happened is a true example of four random women banning together with 1% more courage, in a time and place where most people don’t even make eye contact with each other.  We came together as one in hopes of giving this woman 1% more peace in her day. I am completely aware of the privilege that comes with my background and the realities of racism, ignorance, and intolerance in the world that people might think don't affect me because of it. For me, standing up for this woman did not come with any thought; it was something I felt I needed to do. What I did was literally the least I could do to show that I care, as if I said, "I am here for you, I'm behind you" to that woman. For me, it was a moment in a place that can make one feel so small but instead I felt so big, so strong. For me, it gave me a sounder belief of woman's strength.

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