Last week, I substituted in a fifth grade classroom. As I directed a transition into math lab, I was swarmed by students asking for their forgotten passwords, informing me of trivial fractures in iPad cases, and explaining how they had already done all of the assigned work but the system hadn’t logged it. Through it all, one girl hung to the back against the wall looking nervous.
When the others had cleared away and been set to doing their assignments (or re-doing them, if they were to be believed), she came forward and held her notebook out to me. On the page, in simple but artful penstrokes, was sketched an upside-down hand with an eye set in its palm. “Do you know what this means?” she asked.
I smiled. “It is the Hand of Fatima,” I said. “It’s a Muslim sign. Fatima was the favoured daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, and her hand brings good fortune. It is a very holy symbol.”
A tension I had not fully perceived rolled off her shoulders like an ice sheet separating from the coast, and she sighed with a great, relaxed smile. “Whew, I thought it was a demon.”
I asked her where she had encountered it, and she told me that it has been coming to her in her dreams, and that her mother, who was clearly not Muslim, was concerned that it was demonic. II directed her to a couple of articles on it to read, to her great delight, and told her to take the rest of the period to get acquainted with this sign that clearly had something to tell her.
Throughout the rest of the period, a smile spread farther and farther across her face and, when the bell rang, I glanced over at her notebook one last time before she put it away. There, her timid little sketch had begun to be lovingly transformed by colored pencil into a magnificent drawing.
And so I smiled, too.