My 6-year old bought a scarf at Indiafest in Memphis. She wanted to cover her head because Faiqa covers her head, and my 6-year old adores Faiqa. I happily agreed to this purchase, not because I am hoping to raise a moderate Muslim, but because I hope someday my daughter understands the benefit of saving parts of herself for those closest to her.
About six months ago, my best friend called me to say “so, I don’t want to make a big deal about this, but if I don’t say anything then it will be a big deal when I see you next, so… I started covering my head.”
I wasn’t exactly surprised because Faiqa, like me, is the type of woman who constantly evaluates who she is, what she believes, and how she manifests that in her daily life. I was, however, intrigued. It’s not my place to try to explain what she believes (and I’m hoping she’ll write about it soon on her own blog), but I will summarize the part that’s relevant here:
Covering her head gives her the power to choose who sees her, and who does not.
Some people are allowed, and some people are not. In Faiqa’s life, the decision about whom she will reveal her hair to is made not by her religion necessarily, but by her alone. I didn’t understand the power of this choice fully until she allowed myself and my family – including my husband – to see her without her head covered.
I was honored by her inclusion, a gift that was only made possible by her exclusion of others.
As a rule, I am loathe to exclude people. I have spent too much of my life standing on the outside of a circle, desperate to get in and wondering why I wasn’t good enough, to ever willfully pass that experience on to someone else. And yet my hesitation to exclude has often hurt the people I love most.
I’ve been guilty of not reserving anything special for my closest friends and family.
I’ve tossed around love and affection so freely that my sincerity becomes suspect.
I’ve used love when like will do and created inner circles so large I couldn’t see the soul mates for the strangers.
Thankfully, I’ve learned in the last couple of years that a little exclusion is OK — more than OK, it is necessary if you want to build relationships that run deeper than acquaintance or buddy. There is a level of loyalty, security, trust, and love that can only be found in small, sacred circles. Building those circles requires setting aside something special for those members, a token of exclusivity that says you’ve risked as much as they have by opening your heart.
But what about the person standing on the outside of the circle?
I still don’t want to hurt anyone. I still want to be the person who sees the outsider and welcomes them as part of a group. I want to ease the pain that has been such a big part of my own life in the past. How do I be a person who is both welcoming and discerning?
The solution, I believe, is two-fold:
1) I need to embrace the concept of layers.
2) I need to trust –and allow– others to find their own inner circles.
Despite the quips to the contrary, life is not made up of two kinds of people – those who are in and those who are out. We are, instead, a mass of concentric circles and Venn diagrams. We have subtle levels of relationships that run the spectrum between fellow man and dearly beloved. We intermix and mingle and can, like Faiqa, make our own individual rules about who we let in where, when, and why. Navigating these layers in a way that offers both access and depth requires both subtlety and maturity, two skills that can only increase with experience and practice.
In other words, it’s complicated, but it can be done.
What do you think? Do you believe in the power of exclusion? Do you balance it with an inclusive spirit?