I was the last one to sit down at our table. Our table was in a hall with one hundred and fifty other guests celebrating my niece’s wedding at a YMCA camp at Sturgeon Lake, Minnesota. My place at that table was between a golf enthusiast who doesn’t like to walk and a big steak-loving salesman of something I would never need to buy, and across from a quiet, retired fellow who likes to hunt, fish and follow football. When these men talked–if they talked–they didn’t talk to me.
I felt like a fish out of water and pined for the ocean of home. I was tempted to shut down and just get through. But something in me was determined to connect with my table mates.
I can’t say I was successful in engaging any of them in a meaningful conversation, but I had an affection for each of them. I enjoyed hearing them speak of what they enjoyed. I liked seeing what made them come alive. And I could imagine God enjoying them too.
It seemed like such a small thing, this turning toward instead of away when I encountered people who appear to have little in common with me. It felt inconsequential, and I noticed how much more I enjoyed talking with the woman kitty-corner to me who, just like me, has someone with autism in her life and teared up when we talked about the message the pastor gave at the wedding ceremony.
While waiting to board the plane home, the airport’s internet was down, and I couldn’t read the reports I’d hoped to. So I put on my headphones and listened to Pema Chödrön’s book Welcoming the Unwelcome. She talked about turning toward the uncomfortable instead of turning away.
I heard that when we turn away, we engage in the misbelief that others who don’t share our values or challenge us are not worth our time. Someone who is “not worth our time” has less worth to us than someone who makes us feel good. They are less important, less valuable, and less real.
You can see where this goes. Once a person is judged as “less than,” it’s easy not to care about them or if they are farther away or faceless, condone violence towards them. It all starts with a thought, an untrue thought that they don’t belong to me.
But they do.
Just like me, my brother-in-law Claude (who loves me, for sure) enjoys a cappuccino and always wants to help. Just like me, my brother Ron’s neighbour Vern delighted in a grouse that kept following him around one day when he was out in the woods. Just like me, Ron’s other neighbour Mike got up and danced because he loves his wife and she loves to dance. Just like me, these men love Ron and his wife and want the best for the bride and groom. Just like me, being who they are is making the world a better place.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father,
and you are in me, and I am in you.
–-John 14:20 (NIV)
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In her book Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön explains a prayer practice you can do anywhere called “Just Like Me.” Pema writes, “When we find ourselves in an unwelcome situation, for example, stuck in a waiting room or a traffic jam, we should look around us not to see the obstacles or causes of our frustration but our common humanity.
“Just like me, these people have somewhere to go.”
“Just like me, they feel trapped and frustrated.”
“Just like me, that person doesn’t want to suffer.”
“Just like me, she doesn’t want hatred coming towards her.”
JUST LIKE ME
by Pema Chödrön
Pema goes on to say, “I do this sort of thing in all kinds of situations—at the breakfast table, in the meditation hall, at the dentist’s office. Standing in the checkout line at the market, I might notice the defiant teenager in front of me and make the aspiration, ‘May he be free of suffering and its causes.’ In the elevator with a stranger, I might notice her shoes, her hands, the expression on her face. I contemplate that just like me she doesn’t want stress in her life. Just like me she has worries. Through our hopes and fears, our pleasures and pains, we are deeply interconnected.” (source: Mindful Spot)