A Symbol of Humanity

by Debbie
California, USA

Symbol of Humanity

I work in the children’s department of a major department store. In February 2005, I encountered a customer of Arab descent, or so I assumed at the time because of her clothing. She was dressed in black and gray from head to toe, and most of her face was covered.

She was looking around guiltily because she was about to rip open a packaged dress shirt. It’s no big deal, really. Everybody does it. Because of my training and because she was acting so guilty, my first thought was that she was about to steal it.

But then I saw her eyes: she was afraid.

I approached her and asked if she needed help. She was clutching a dress shirt for boys, and now she looked terrified. It was amazing how much emotion I could see in her eyes. I believe in eye contact and looking someone in the eye when speaking with them, but how often do we really do this?

In fact, it’s possible that not being able to see her whole face helped me to see “her”.

She didn’t speak English. She kept pointing at a 9- or 10-year-old boy and almost wringing the shirt she was clutching. That was easy enough to understand without words: “Does it fit him?”

I asked her to hand me the shirt and showed her the trick to opening the package without ripping it apart. Suddenly the fear in her eyes was gone, replaced by smiling eyes. After that, I helped her find a different tie than the one she had picked because it didn’t go with the suit.

Then she started saying a lot of words I didn’t understand and patting me on the arm. I knew she meant a very enthusiastic thank you. I was glad I could help her.

When I came in to work the next day, I was told there were some “strange” Arabs waiting for an employee in the children’s department. The lady had come in again with her daughter to translate. My boss had guessed she wanted me and told her when I would be in. They waited for me.

Through her daughter, this is what she said. “I have been in this country one month. I find nothing but hostile and dangerous eyes. I am not a terrorist. My family is not terrorists. You are the only one to see this. You treat me kind, even though I misbehave. I thank you.”

She gave me a jade green amulet. Her daughter said it is a symbol of humanity. I will treasure it always as a reminder that we are all just people. Each of us is an individual with our own unique story.

Different cultures do not eliminate the humanity in humans.

Originally published as HeroicStories #733 on December 5, 2007

22 thoughts on “A Symbol of Humanity”

    • A story that touched my heart.
      There is a saying that goes something like:
      Do not judge a person until you have walked
      a mile in their shoes.

    • This story brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to just reach out and hug them both! It’s time to see others as a part of our human race and love them.

  1. Why are so many people so quick to judge? Why do so many automatically assume the worst, always? The world could be such a better place if we all decided to work together for a better world for everyone. Kindness is truly contagious, you don’t even have to be included, just witness it and you can spread it also. A smile costs you nothing to share, yet improves your mood and outlook, try it!

  2. As in some other stories published by HR, I think the real hero is Debbie, the author. She started the ball rolling and treated the Arab lady as a person, not a terrorist or similar. She did receive an amulet from the Arab lady. Hopefully, she was paid on commission so she made extra money helping the other Arabian customers. It goes back to the Golden Rule. Do unto others….

  3. This story was an encouragement not to judge by appearances especially and hasten to condemn. Terrorism is a real threat globally but not all Arabs or Moslems are terrorists. Love always wins. Even real evil is easily overcome with good. Thank you author and Heroic stories.

  4. Heartwarming. My emails fom you arrive in the night here, so I get wonderful stories like this to start my day off in the right frame of mind. Thank you.

  5. Thanks Debbie for this site. It always restores my faith in humanity. Your stories are so inspiring, uplifting, and just plain great. This story is no exception. I met and became friends with a Muslim family of seven. The mother and father are the sweetest and nicest people you ever want to meet and children are so adorable. Its the news media that doesn’t present the whole story of Muslims. They report only the 1% that is giving the Muslims a bad name. The other 99% wants to live in peace with people.

    • Thank you Paul for your comment and Debbie for the story. As a Muslim woman I will say that the majority of us do follow what we are taught and that is to be peaceful, loving, generous, and honest people. It is required of us. As in all races and religions there will be some that have bad hearts and do wrong. An entire religion, billions of people, however, should not be judged based on the actions of a few, which is what the media had successfully accomplished. My mother told me that my weakness is I am too nice, yet when I go about my day I am viewed as a thief and followed through stores and stared at because I am a terrorists.

  6. What a brave lady to go out in a hostile environment without her translator! I love the phrase “danger eyes” – how descriptive. Debbie is so right to note that we are taught to use eye contact but seldom REALLY do it. Kudos all round 🙂

  7. This is a wonderful story; it truly warmed my heart. I grew up in the Middle East and I met and seen both good and bad people, just like in other places around the world. It’s very nice of the author to help her regardless of her dress. Thank you for sharing! It truly made my day!

  8. I have worked with international students from all over the world and have become desensitized to the atrocities bestowed upon certain cultures by Americans.

    It says a lot when a story of humanity is the exception and not the rule. Thank you Debbie for seeing the woman behind the clothing. You are truly an angel among us.

    • Rather than generalize as “Americans”, I’d much prefer to think of it as “some Americans”. It’s the same issue: I wouldn’t want to paint all members of a culture with the same broad brush.

  9. I don’t know if you heard lately but there was a hostage crisis in Sydney Austrlia recently. The hostage taker threw up flags with Islamic verses. At the end of the crisis two people died. The country was left in shock and the site of the crisis has become a place of mourning. During the hostage crisis many violent threats were made against the Islamic community. Rachel Jacobs in Brisbane Queensland saw a Muslim woman removing her headscarfe on a train. At the next stop she ran after the woman and told her “put it back on, I’ll walk with you”. She tweeted this story and in Sydney Tessa Kum read the story and it inspired her to tweet that if there are any Muslims who take the same bus she takes to work wearing religious attire who don’t feel safe that she will ride with them and #illridewithyou went viral with people all over Australia especially Sydney tweeting the same offer. Many Australians instead of amalgamating the hostage taker with the Islamic community and be consumed with anger and hatred choose to support and look out for it’s Muslim Australians. It’s just so inspiring and sends a great message of hope to humanity.

  10. Aw geesh,
    I gushed twice! Once from the story and again from the comment about the Australians standing in solidarity with their Muslim citizens.
    Thank you Heroic Stories. You reminded me how much I love this world we live in.
    Yes, there was a terrorist attack in Australia, but my God, look at the beautiful demonstration of humanity that ensued.

  11. Why don’t we all start by looking a stranger in the eyes and learn to read what is there, before we judgmentally jump to conclusions about who they are and what are their motives? This story is a perfect example of someone looking beneath the surface of the glass, to see beyond to their humanity.


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