On a search for a better world, finding it in the most unlikely places
Honestly (and regrettably), I don’t remember his name. What I do remember is his kindness when he asked if he could buy my then-2 year old daughter a pastry. I was just another stranger in a Starbucks, and he went out of his way to give. I asked him why, and there was a sadness in his eyes as he spoke of his own children still at home on the other side of the world, and how much he missed them – how beautiful they were to him, and how he counted the days until he could return to see them. His English was very imperfect, but I completely understood his heartbreak and what he had given up for the chance at building them a better life. I will never forget that moment, and the vulnerability of this man to reach out in kindness to a stranger whose only commonality was the love of a father.
I grew up poor, rural, and white – that is to say I grew up surrounded by people who were predisposed to prejudice against people not like them. The difference is that I had parents with the courage and foresight to intentionally expose me to people who were not like me…as I look back on the foreign exchange students, (“illegal”) immigrants, and others that my parents extended hospitality to, I realize that it gave me perspective that I would not have otherwise received.
In my adult life, I have been blessed to be able to hear the stories of those on the margins of society, and to travel across this amazing country filled to the brim with beautiful people. I have had lunch with homeless people, CEO’s, truck drivers, and migrant workers. I have spent time with evangelicals, atheists, Muslims, Catholic and the many who are like me in the space in-between.
Here’s what I know: Humanity is beautiful. The answer is always to listen more than we shout. Nothing is uglier than when people denigrate the Other without hearing the story that they bring to the table or attempting to understand. There is a power in diversity that exists nowhere else.
So when the uninformed sling insults born of ignorance and willful lack of understanding, my heart breaks a little. The fact that we so willingly take up arms against people whose stories we will never take the time to understand makes me rage in a way that nothing else does. All I can do is attempt to meet my neighbors at the walls that divide us, and invite them to share in my life, and create a safe space to listen to their often heart-wrenching stories. Only then can I begin to understand, and only then will I be willing to truly make a place for them in my world and teach my children to do the same.
The answer to a world that seems again to be splintering along demographic lines into ever-smaller, broken pieces is not to be right…not to condemn. We must refuse to taste the cup of division and suspicion and instead drink deep the wine of reconciliation, of hope, of optimistic unity – that someday our children, poor, rich, black, white, gay, straight, catholic, protestant, muslim, or otherwise…that they may all sit down together in a world where the darkness has receded that much more, and the light is that much brighter.
I dare you to start working for that world now, to make the space, take the time, and find the courage to make the world a better place…I dare you to listen.
The Suburban Vagabond