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Our Diversity is Our Strength

I was riding the subway with my husband.  We were headed towards Penn Station, returning home after seeing a Broadway show in Manhattan.  It was rush hour, the subway was crowded and I was lucky to get one of the last seats.  It was amazingly quiet for such a crowded car.  Most people were looking at their phones or listening to a device.  There were quite a few pairs of wireless earphones on people.  Their heads nodded slightly to the beat of noiseless music, or their eyes glazed over as a mystery book played in their ears.  There was a rich variety of humanity on that single car- multiple ages, ethnicities, races, ages and income levels.  I marveled at the diversity and the peaceful coexistence in this tiny piece of New York City.
My eyes glanced over to the man sitting next to me.  He was holding a book and reading it very intently.  Reading an actual book is a relatively rare occurrence these days, but what truly caught my attention was the unusual print and the magnificently beautiful font of the letters in the book.  I had never seen anything like it in my life.  I tried to unobtrusively get a good look at the page.  What could this language be?  Dare I ask this stranger?  I felt badly about interrupting his concentration- he was reading with so much focus.  Yet, I knew my stop was coming up and my curiosity was peaking, so finally I leaned over and asked,  “Excuse me, what language is that?”  The gentleman, a middle aged brown skinned man, smiled broadly, turned to me and said, “Tamil, an ancient language, one of the oldest in the world.”  I needed him to repeat it several times and to even spell it for me.  I had never heard of it.  Our train stop had arrived, and we jumped off the train.  His smile continued as he told me that he was studying the language at Harvard just before he disappeared down the stairs.
I immediately Googled Tamil.  Tamil is spoken in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and parts of India.  More people speak Tamil than French.  It is quite ancient, at least 2000 years old.  Today, you can find numerous websites in Tamil and there are close to 2000 newspapers published in Tamil.
I am astonished at my ignorance.  I am so grateful to this gentleman for not ignoring me and for teaching me something brand new.  This experience convinced me of what a cloistered world I live in.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my community, yet some days I spend my time solely with people who look like me and act like me.  They have the same education, background and interests as me.  My trip to Manhattan reminded me of how much diversity adds to enrich and color our lives. 
The story of Noah and the Ark is often mistakenly taught as a children’s story.  I often see great wisdom in it.  Look at the animal passengers on the ark.  They were not screened before entry, all animals were included- big and small, smelly and mild, ferocious and meek.  They were diverse and that is precisely the point- each had a purpose and each will contribute to the world. 
Our strength as a people comes from our diversity as well.  It is important to nurture our separate communities, but we must never forget the strength and richness we get when we join together in harmony. 


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