The pendant on my new necklace looks like an intricate but asymmetrical snowflake. The artful Arabic calligraphy reads “Maşallah,” a word I have appropriated and use whenever I want to exclaim over the beauty or excellence of something. Some folks also believe that uttering this word is a way to banish evil.
My necklace, purchased in the Sabancı Museum gift shop, will go with the evil eyes I’ve purchased in Greece and Turkey, along with other spangled, studded, and sparkly symbols of protection. I don’t wear a cross, as I have never identified as Christian. I’m much more drawn to the power this blue eye holds.
As a teenager, I hesitated when my first crush, a Catholic, suggested I wear a chastity ring. Sure, jewelry can symbolize promises to other people: two halves of a Best Friends charm, a heart-shaped locket, or a friendship bracelet made of colorful string by kids at camp. I suppose a wedding ring is the ultimate promise and symbol of protection. It’s the most prized and valuable symbol anyone could give. And yet, excluding a necklace or two given to me by ex-boyfriends, all my jewelry symbolizes promises I have made to myself.
With this necklace I am promising to reject my flying anxiety, which crept up on me like a fungus after a terrible Air France flight. I have also sworn to never fly Air France again, although I do not need a piece of jewelry to remind me of that promise. I know it may sound strange to replace an irrational fear with an irrational feeling of security based on an Arabic expression adorning my neck, but this Air France flight proved to me that my other support systems weren’t working. Usually, when turbulence gives me a hint of anxiety, I look at the flight attendants. If they’re calm, I’m calm. But what happens if the plane suddenly swerves to the left and descends precipitously upon Istanbul and the flight attendant screams over the speaker, “Everyone buckle up! It’s dangerous!” Once the pilot slowed down and evened the plane, he explained over the speaker that he had to swerve and descend rapidly to avoid hitting another aircraft. I think after that experience I may be better off placing my hand on a pendant that has special meaning to me than trying to mirror the mood of flight attendants who are freaking out.
As creatures of habit, we get stuck in ruts of irrational beliefs. Sometimes these beliefs are harmless: Maşallah pendants and evil eyes give protection, the Mamas and the Papas music playing out of the blue means it’s going to be a great day, a row of ıdentıcal numbers on a digital clock mean something amazing is going to happen. (These beliefs have been brought to you exclusively by Meriwether’s mixed up mind.) Then there are the dangerous ruts some minds may sink into, such as “Muslims are dangerous. We need to ban them! Mexicans are dangerous. We must create more barriers.” It’s easy for a lot of people to get bogged down and stuck in the gooey mud of these ideas. We all like to think we’re on the side of the good guys, but the truth is the bad guys make up a small portion of humanity and these so-called bad guys, or “bad hombres,” don’t belong to any ethnic or religious group.
So how do we get on solid ground again? There’s hope! If I may use my flying anxiety as an example, I am working on dispelling this fear. I am tending to the garden of my mind, weeding out bad ideas and helping positive ones grow. I know flying is way safer than driving. But it’s still a relatively new experience to be sitting in a chair in the sky, even for a world traveler like myself. The truth is that the daredevil pilot on the Air France flight was probably just doing what he needed to do. And that flight attendant was reasonably scared and needed to get a message out more clearly than flashing the seatbelt sign could have accomplished. That flight was an isolated incident. I’m not going to stop flying. I’m not going to stop traveling. I would like to visit some more Muslim countries, such as Jordan, Morocco, Iran, Egypt, and Oman and I would appreciate it if the governments of those countries do not retaliate against our government’s hateful, ignorant measures with hateful, ignorant measures of their own.
We must remind ourselves to learn before we judge and think before we act, otherwise our fears will enshroud us and our judgments will lead to actions that imperil us all.