The other day, for one horrible moment, I felt my heart grow smaller.
It was about brownies. The previous night, my open-hearted teenage daughter made brownies to bring to the local Muslim association. She wanted them to know that we value them as members of our community, and that we stand with them against fear and hate.
Then I went to work the next day. I teach preschool at a Jewish Community Center. Right before my 4- and 5-year-old students sat down for their morning meeting, hands still gooey from the sensory table, the alarm went off. The robot voice told us we needed to get out. So we did. We didn’t know if it was a fire drill, a threat, or a genuine danger. We left our work and our play and our security blankets and our jackets and purses and baby bottles. We walked to our safe place off site (I shouldn’t say more. It’s 2017 in America, and I bear the secret location of our Jewish hiding place. This is something we are sick of).
The children played happily and we smiled and laughed with them, teachers having conversations with each other in wordless glances above the children. Saying things like, “I’m scared, but being strong for them,” and, “I’m boiling with anger but being loving for them,” and saying most of all, “We are all in this together.”
After a while, we were informed that it was a bomb threat like our sister JCCs have gotten all over the country, and that there was little reason to suspect physical danger. We were not in danger, but we were hurt.
And then I remembered the brownies. I am not proud of what I thought next. It’s actually embarrassing. But I’ll tell you what I thought, when I thought about the brownies, because it may help you. It was this, “Brownies for them?! I’m the one who deserves brownies now. I’m the victim now. I should be eating those brownies myself. In fact, people should be giving me brownies, dammit.”
And with that, my heart, so recently open to the baby in my arms and the children giggling at my feet, began to shrivel and harden. I felt it almost physically, a denseness in my chest, a steeling of my eyes. I told someone whom I love how I was feeling, and she shook me out of it, reminding me of myself, like true friends do.
For that horrible moment, though, I felt like my people needed me, and I only had room in my heart, and enough brownies, for them. My heart was building walls. For the first time, I had an emotional glimpse of what it might feel like to the Americans supporting the president’s xenophobic policies. And then, after having closed and hardened, I found my heart opening up again to let them in. Those for whom I had so far been unable to muster much compassion. Don’t get me wrong: I think that they are still wrong about what this nation stands for, and how human beings ought to treat each other. They are wrong, but no longer unfathomable to me.
The police cleared the building and we eventually went back to our school. We played and sang our songs and told our stories. We laughed and got on with it. We did the very things our enemies have been trying to stop us from doing for thousands of years. On my bike ride home, I pedaled fiercely and sobbed. I thought of those enemies—the Pharaohs and Hamans and Romans and Babylonians and the jerk who made that morning’s phone call. He made me, for a brief moment, a little bit more like all of them. But I rode on. Thankful for my strength and freedom and community and so many gifts.
When my daughter came home from school, we wrapped up the brownies and drove to the Muslim Center. No one answered the knock at the door. We went in and put the brownies down anyway. Their door was open.