What Do You Do with “Different?”

Sometimes when I encounter someone who is so different from my world of normal, I wonder if I am handling it appropriately.  What do you do when you run into “different’?  How open are you?  Do you ignore or dismiss those who are older, younger, poorer, less attractive, less intelligent, obese, or handicapped?

Dealing with Different

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/hidesy

A Fleeting Moment …

We were waiting at a light on the way to Village Church this morning.  Lutheran Church of the Cross is at that corner.  A nicely dressed and coiffed lady of about 90 was in a wheel chair.  She had just come out of church and was being walked home by a younger woman.  As I lazily watched the elderly lady, I noticed she held a rose in full bloom.  She raised it to her face and breathed in the fragrance several times.  Then she closed her eyes and visibly lifted her face fully to the sun with a rapturous expression.  My eyes filled-up as I contemplated:  She is the same as I…though trapped, yes, by the frailties of her body. Yet inside she loves the smell of roses and the warm sun on her face and worshiping at her church.

 

A Half Hour Conversation …

A couple of weeks ago, I was checking shoppers out at an estate sale.  A man next in line was trying to ask me for advice regarding some things he wanted to sell.  His stutter was the worst I have ever encountered.  A simple question was taking several minutes to complete.  I nodded my understanding, glanced at the waiting line behind him and asked if he could wait.  We then went out into the sunshine where I thought he might feel more comfortable.  It took him a long time to get out everything he wanted to tell me.  After, I gave him the information he needed.  Then I said, “I am ok with your stuttering.  I have a wonderful brother who stutters sometimes when he gets excited.”  He visibly relaxed. He thanked me for not interrupting or finishing his sentences.  That angers him when it happens, since he knows his own thoughts. Another does not.  I learned a lot from him in the next several minutes.

 

A Sunday Afternoon …

Let me take you back 30 years.  A shockingly ragged and smelly bum knocked on our door one Sunday afternoon. He asked for a glass of water and use of the facilities.  I invited him in.  I noticed his outer coat was horrible, stiff with grime, torn and did not fasten properly.  I offered him an extra coat of my husband’s, but he declined.  I then told him I could easily mend his coat in minutes, but he again refused. The water and facilities were all he required.  After a long while, he came back into the room.  He thanked us and handed my husband a small scrap of paper. It was a scripture reference written in dull pencil. He asked, since we were kind to him if he might say something he believed to be vital.  We agreed. He told Lou that it was very important, that he, as my husband, pray for my protection and blessing every day before I left the house.  Then he was gone!  It was so strange!

The next morning, Lou decided, even though he had never prayed out loud in front of another person before that he would do so.  The whole event was too weird not to be significant.  Though we always looked for him in that small town, we never saw him again.  That day and that bum, however, changed our lives.  It is a practice we have continued, and is one of the most meaningful turns ever on the road of our life.

 

More examples come to mind, but the point is this:  The 90 year old lady is different because of her age, but a few seconds revealed we feel the same about roses, worship, and sunshine.  The stuttering man is different because of his speech, but a mere half hour revealed that we both want to be respected for our intelligence and to be allowed to have our own voice.  I suppose I thought I was being very charitable when I allowed the bum into our home to partake of the bare necessities of the moment. In actuality, all he got was water.  When we respected his words, we were the ones who received something that would prove to impact the rest of our lives.

I am continuously learning that when I am open to those who are so different from me and give them the respect due them, I am the one who gains from the encounter.  Do I always do it?  I am ashamed to say that I don’t.  My encouragement to you is a reminder to me.

How do you handle “different’?

What lessons are you giving your children?

Can you recall instances where you benefited from time you gave to someone who would have been easier to ignore?  Please share!

Anne

About Anne

The youngest of 8, I was born in a tiny town in the Keeweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan in the late 40’s. My minister parents died 6 months apart around the time of my 5th birthday. My older siblings raised us in the family home until all were graduated except me. Gradually only the boys remained, so at the age of 10 I moved to other homes. My childhood was rich with experiences that sparked my young imagination. When I finally read the Anne of Green Gables series, I totally identified with Anne. I have just celebrated my 46th anniversary with my dear husband, Lou. Our daughter, April, 4 grandchildren and one great granddaughter bring our family a lot of joy and reasons to be thankful. I have worked at O’Connor Mortuary since 1996 where I handle the accounting. The Mortuary has become extended family and it is a source of satisfaction as a job I thoroughly enjoy. We attend the Village Church and that is another wonderful extended family, one who not only worships and learns together, but loves and prays for one another at the drop of a hat. We live in a retirement community and enjoy taking our two dogs, a Bernese Mountain Dog and little Cocker Spaniel, to Dana Point Harbor for Sunday jaunts. I absolutely love participating in the Mortuary Blog. I have found my voice! Thanks for following me.
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  • Kim Stacey

    I had the remarkable good fortune to spend six years in Iran, from 1966 to 1972. I was 12 when we arrived, and the years which followed were steeped in experiences of “different”! We traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia. I spent time away from a disturbingly difficult mother with short holidays on my own in Baghdad, Kabul, or Dubai. All this travel gave me a very holistic view of the world, at a very impressionable age; and to this day, I embrace other cultures with open arms. My idea of the perfect epitaph was one I saw in a cemetery in Oakland, California. Etched under the woman’s name were just two words: World Traveler.

    That “holistic perspective” was something I tried to pass on to my two boys, despite the fact that extensive travel was financially impossible! I took them to every possible ethnic enclave or fair that I could easily get to; we sampled the food, listened to the music, watched, listened and learned (in my case, relearned) that the world is a rich tapestry of diversity. If we all can accept that simple fact, I think the world would be a more peaceful, more joyous place.

    I want to complement you on a beautifully written, thought-provoking post, Anne. Thank you. I’ve got to go “spread the word” about it through all those channels we have today…it’s so worth sharing!

    • Anne Collins

      Hi Kim, Thank you so much for your comments. I can picture you as a young teenaged girl experiencing firsthand the fabric of these places most of us went to sleep imagining based on something we read or saw in a magazine. I wish you were local. There’s a lovely 5′ garden Buddha Goddess in my next sale you might have wanted to claim. What you have done for your boys will change their lives forever. Our world is truly shrinking with the ability for more people to experience traveling abroad and with the internet and you-tube. I always loved the phrase “Take time to smell the roses.” We need to take time to know those in our world and be enriched. I know this blog will mean something different to each person who reads it. That is my desire… that each of us is challenged on the road we travel, to make time and room for “different”.

  • Karilyn Leslie

    Annie,
    Thank you for sharing your heart with us here today. I admittedly struggle at times with embracing “different.” Whenever I do step out of my comfort zone, my fears seem to melt away, and the experience usually becomes extremely positive and memorable. We should embrace your experiences, and look for opportunities to have them ourselves.

    Love you my friend,
    Kari

    • Anne Collins

      Thank you Kari, for sharing your heart. My daughter has always embraced the strays of her world, from abandoned pets to misunderstood humans. Her life is rich with many friends from every walk of life and she seems to keep them for a lifetime. I haven’t always, letting my own fears stop me. I have learned from her and it is always a blessing when I venture out. Life is too short to limit in any way. Bless you! I love your heart!

  • Joe

    I always remember and share with my family that just because someone is different still keep in mind that this is a person who has a heart and a soul and it comes back to treating everyone the same as you would like to be treated yourself. I had too struggle with this on a daily basis with my step daughter emily who is disabled and can not communicate verbally with words, she communicates through feelings and sounds she makes , even as she was different to me she has a loving quality that only she can share in her own way and this is an unconditional love that shines brighter and has touched my heart over the years. I am glad Emily is different because she has taught me too love in a different way and I would not be a better person today if it was not for her being different.

    • Anne Collins

      Emily is a perfect example of what I was talking about. My daughter dated a wonderful young man named Scott when she was a teen. She kept telling me she wanted me to meet his wonderful brother, which I thought was strange, since Scott is who she cared for. I finally met him and he was also a teenager, with Downs Syndrome. What a loving, open and accepting young man he was. I was instantly smitten, too. She didn’t tell me ahead of time, why she was so impressed with him, but let me decide for myself when I met him. He probably encountered a few people who didn’t take time to know him here and there, but I was better for having known both boys. Scott was struck down very young with cancer, but he took on every single young person in the cancer wards where he spent his last years and made a huge difference by loving the “different” in his world. It sounds like Emily is lucky to have you to love, Joe. Thanks for sharing.

  • Tom

    interesting

    • Anne Collins

      Thank you, Tom, for taking time to read and respond. Hugs!

  • April Yocky

    This subject is a big deal to me. For as far back as I can remember I’ve looked at people and observed from afar. Realizing our differences, pain and happiness, many cultures and beliefs, financial status, what makes someone popular or not, questioning in all this; is there really a “normal”? Yes it does sound funny when you ask yourself, what is normal anyway? We are all very different and that’s what makes us unique!
    I began as a small child noticing peoples reactions to the different in society. My aunt, God bless her, was always concerned with my questions and curiosity. While asking about a woman’s deformity I was chastised and told not to make fun. I knew in my heart of only 5 I had empathy. Or when I said I wanted a hat like the China Woman in the fields, I loved her hat and our difference in culture. One big mistake I feel parents make is telling there kids not to stare at someone with say a handicap. Better to teach them to smile, to be kind, to have a conversation. They want to be treated like an equal, like they fit in. Sure you don’t want your kids to put themselves ever in harms way with any stranger but show empathy when possible. It’s ok for you yourself to say hello, introduce yourself. Pick something up for them, get a door. be an example. I understand people have fear of the unknown. Of what’s different. Most people with disabilities will share their boundaries and limits with you. It’s easy!
    Being kind doesn’t always mean the other person will except it though either. Which brings me to the time I was in middle school and had a crush on a boy I enjoyed playing basketball with. I saw him as a guy I had something in common with. Thought we could build a friendship. He kept emotionally distant. Very angry person. He was confined to a wheel chair. The closer we became as friends the more he would make rude comments and tell me I just felt sorry for him. That cut deep and I never forgot it. It was so far from the truth. Made me question society. Myself. It prompted me to be an advocate whenever possible for the underdog. Yes you can get taken for granted sometimes but there is always someone right next to you experiencing something too great to bare. Most people you pass would enjoy a smile, something I have to remind myself of every day 🙂

    • Anne Collins

      April,
      Actually, your example to me was part of the inspiration to tackle this subject. From what you wrote, I can see even more how you have been aware and concerned about the feelings of others throughout your life. As mama, I knew this and always saw it first hand. When I was too intimidated by some situations, you were quietly drawing someone out and paving the way for others to include the “different” one.
      Another way you have encouraged me over our life is to take the time for the small details and intricacies of life: tiny things seen and heard during walks in the woods, the tons of stars away from light sources while camping, the subtle changes of a campfire, that shared cup of tea, examining the unusual flower, or when we completed your bug collection for your school project together years ago. I remember that was one of the first times I wrote creatively as an adult, when I wrote “Ode to a Dead Bug” and I think your teacher read it to everyone. Sounds like the beginnings of a new blog! (Tiny details, not dead bugs!)
      I love you daughter. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts.

  • Jeff Turner

    Anne,

    I shudder to think of how many opportunities I have missed out on just because I avoided someone who was placed in my path that I had a bad attitude toward. I too reflect on encounters I have had over the years and the lesson I have had to relearn too many times of the benefits that can come from valuing another because they exist. Equal value to me in God’s eyes. (Many times I would value others far above myself if I were God)

    I so appreciated these stories you shared above. You are a dear mentor to me and I will do my best to keep these lessons in my heart and daily practice. In the book “Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith, our Sunday morning small group has been working on the chapter “Learning to Live Without Judgement”. The soul training exercise for the week has been to live a day without gossip. On its face, that goal sounds simple. Then I begin listening to my thoughts, silent comments and just inappropriate attitudes about others. Wow! I have allot of work to do. The motivation? I think of the joy of just getting to know another human being and thinking of what I might have missed. Then, there is the understanding that God is (as stated so well in the book, “The Shack”) particularly fond of each one I see as I move through the day.

    Blessings upon you Anne with an “e”,

    Jeff

    • Anne Collins

      Thank you for sharing your heart, Jeff. Being open to others also takes time, doesn’t it? When we are pressured by our awareness of deadlines and the volume of work in our day, we will gloss over and ignore. I am finding that it takes only a minute to make someone’s day, sometimes. Where I have been walking in the morning before work, I pass by a woman who is watering her potted plants and the sidewalk where I am walking by. She looks rather funny because this is simply a front walkway and she wears a funny jumpsuit, and rubber boots to the knee. I didn’t say anything the first time or two, just made a mental judgement somewhere along the lines of “overkill”. This morning, she did not see me and I figured there was a chance of getting a second shower. So I said, “Good morning! How does your garden grow?” Turns out she was European with a heavy accent and was delighted that I asked about her flowers. Suddenly, she was no longer different, just ready to get a wet and dirty job done while saving her nicer clothes and shoes. And yes, I am certain God thinks she is pretty cool!
      Not sure if I can qualify as mentor, but appreciate your wonderful comments.

  • Hi Anne

    This is a great reminder for all of us to love our brothers and sisters just as God loves us, without conditions. I realize that it is not as easy as it sounds. If I start to judge someone based on my limited perceptive, I try and stop my self and readjust my thinking. Who am I to cast any judgment on anyone, what makes my better than someone else, nothing.
    I personally believe when we start casting judgments on others, it is because we have no real sense of who we are and we are basically insecure with our selves. I have found that we have more in common with each other than we have in difference. Thank you for this great reminder to love each other and embrace our unique differences.

    Namaste

    • Anne Collins

      I agree. A sense of purpose for one’s life, for one’s day, for this very moment changes how we view every single encounter. When we lose sight of purpose, we lose sight of others. The unusual or the different in our day could very well be the most important encounter of that day. How sad if we miss it.

      As an older person, some of the things I have had trouble understanding are tattoos and piercings in odd places. I finally realize I don’t have to understand them, just embrace the person and their uniqueness and see them as an individual worthy of love and respect. I still fail when it comes to rap, but then I have more years to go here…

  • Lori Bristol

    Anne,

    I love your kind heart and know those you encounter are richer for the time they have spent with you.

    Several years ago I befriended a family with an autistic son. He was four years old and was very prone to tantrums. That was an interesting time in my life to see how people respond to “different”. Sometimes his restaurant behavior was not pleasant for other diners. While some seemed understanding, others made rude comments.
    This season of my life taught me not to make assumptions. Just because a child is unruly does not make him a spoiled brat.

    Thank you for reminding us the importance of tolerance and the lessons we can learn from others.

    Lori

    • Anne Collins

      Lori
      I know what you mean about the limitations of autism. While they have varying degrees of abilities, the children usually are misunderstood in a public setting. My husband and daughter both worked for awhile for Good Shepherd Homes, where they cared for and assisted the autistic as well as other limiting physical and mental conditions. I learned so much, going to the parties and gatherings. I always came away feeling like I was the one enriched by the encounters.
      Thank you for your comments. Love you.

  • Carrie Bayer

    Anne, this is wonderful! You are the most kind & sweet person I have ever known- this is proof of what I have known of you for years now. You are so welcoming of anyone or anything that comes your way. You recognize that they were put in your path for a reason & you don’t shy away. Often times, I am considered different for various reasons. During my life, I have been shunned because of my religious upbringing, my off beat sense of humor, my taste in friends or men, my funky style of fashion & music. & my health issues I’ve even been turned away at the cosmetics counter because of the hyperpigmentation on my face! But you have always accepted me for who & what I am- I am forever grateful for your unconditional love, support & friendship. You are truly an amazing inspiration! I love you! Carrie

    • Anne Collins

      Carrie, I wish I could live up to all that you said, but it is way too much pressure! 🙂 We all feel rejections for so many things. Like Molly’s blog about listening to the wrong voices inside, we just have to cut that out. Every day brings opportunities for us all to make a difference in our world. Hopefully, not too many get left on the table.
      I see you every day, dealing with the hurting families who have lost a loved one and how you love them, when they allow it and it is impressive. I see the way you take time to say or do things to make others around you feel cared for and comfortable. ALL THE TIME!! I did not even know you have hyper-pigmentation. Geez, I should have been more observant… that might change everything! See how silly we are? I love you bunches!

  • Anne,
    This topic hits so close to home. You’ve written just beautifully about such a deep & tender problem. I can certainly look back on failures where I didn’t treat people with respect or give them the basic kindness they deserved from me. I’ve failed many times personally and in my customer service experience. I remember an instance where I was working as a cashier and I’d look up at the next person to help & instantly make a negative judgment about them. I began slowly realizing that each of the snap judgments I was making were completely inaccurate. I would initially treat my customer with low expectations and by the end of the conversation I would try to be as sweet as possible when I realized my error – it was a really nice person, not an annoying person as I’d judged. That singular afternoon changed how I do customer service and has tremendously impacted how I look at people today. I try not to assume I know something about them, I treat them with interest and respect & want them to feel the quality of my service from the beginning to the end of my time with them.
    Your post goes beyond this & illustrates a life of openness, compassion & true desire to love people. I’m challenged, encouraged & really moved by your post. Thank you so much for sharing your stories, they are so simple & beautiful. Well done!

    • Anne Collins

      Molly,
      I remember so many times hearing pastors say in their sermons that every time they bring up a touchy subject, they find themselves having to “live it out”. I have been so aware of so many “different” situations since writing this. I truly am having to live it out myself.
      Customer service in any line of work really puts one on the front line of treating people “right”. Thank you for the reminder.
      I also notice that I have to become more tolerant and less judgmental when I observe a close friend or family member acting different. I need to try harder to understand what they might be going through and have a little patience, ask a few questions, take a bit more time to understand why the “difference”.
      When the blog editor says something cool, I get all jazzed. Thanks for your encouragement!

  • amy

    Anne,

    Thank you for the reminder to always have an open mind and an open heart. Often times we judge others before we have even spoken to them. Some of my greatest learning experiences have come from talking with “different” types of people. It has opened my mind and my heart to a whole new world of acceptance. I am no better then anyone else. They are no better then I. God created us all equally.
    Thanks for sharing your personal journey and reminded me what is important.

    Amy

    • Anne Collins

      Amy,
      Thank you for your thoughts. You brought up one point that struck a new chord… What about the people that I tend to put on little pedestals because of this quality I admire, or that milestone they have reached that I haven’t? We are all created equally. Yes, we strive for excellence personally, but those pedestals have to go, too. Appreciate you.

  • GREG FORSTER

    Anne,

    The joy of life is that people are different, and they have the right to be respected and to enjoy life to the fullest whatever their condition, for we never know what an interaction or connection with them may bring to us. If we care about deepening ourselves as human beings, we have to be open and take on all comers…and put our focus in to looking for the “good” in them, and, if we are lucky, we will be made uncomfortable, which hopefully will lead to a change in us and what we think and then allow us to be better people. Everyone wins!

    I have one sibling, a mentally retarded brother a couple of years younger than me. He only rarely utters a word and he is definitely “different”. I have learned to empathize with his condition as I grew up, and treat him as I would like to be treated if our situations were reversed. I have learned to be sensitive to his behaviors and his limitations. I have learned a lot from observing how others relate to him. I must say that it did and still does take strength on my part not to be overly sensitive to some of his behaviors when we are out in public as some can be quite attention getting to those who don’t understand. But he has taught me to be appreciative of the simple things…when I take him out on a Sunday, we many times can walk a mile on a jogging track together, not always an easy thing for him to do.
    And what better thing to do than to enjoy ice cream on a picnic bench together on a lazy Sunday afternoon…something so simple and such an easy thing to do.

    Both my boys have grown up knowing him and being aware of his “difference”. This in turn, allowed them to reach out to others, whether retarded or not, who are different or maybe just “new” to their school in a more relaxed and accepting way without the baggage of being concerned if this was an “uncool” thing to do.

    So I am grateful for what my brother has taught my family about human life and its value.

    “Viva la Difference”!

    Greg

    Greg

    • Anne Collins

      Wow, Greg. We both have (I had) a brother named Phil with special needs. I appreciated hearing about your brother Phil. My Phil did fine until he was almost 50 and went back and got his Master’s Degree. He graduated and was studying for his state boards in counseling and suddenly couldn’t remember anything that he should have known since high school. A series of strokes had destroyed important brain cells and empty places surfaced in his brain under testing. He eventually lost nearly all his memory and reasoning and the ability to care for himself. Fortunately, my sister in law is an RN and was able to give her life to care for his until he passed a few years ago. There is a case of falling in love, marrying, having kids and building a life with someone and then losing them years before they actually die because of brain changes. I have always greatly honored her in my heart for all she did for our brother after he became “different”.
      Thank you for sharing.

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  • Mark

    Anne….From someone who considers himself to be quite different, thank you for reminding us all that different is not right or wrong it is just different….Keep on encouraging Anne you are doing a great job at….

    Mark

    • Anne Collins

      Yes Mark. Different is not less than or more than, but it sure keeps life from getting boring. Everyone has a story. Different fascinates me because it is NOT boring! Thanks for your comments. Anne

  • Christopher Iverson

    Anne,

    I love your insights and recollections. I learned about “different” in the early seventies through the Special Olympics. As young teens, my mother made us volunteer and the contact with people a bit more challenged than I has lasted a lifetime. The experience opened my young heart to my own limitations and the limitations that people choose to become a part of their lives. This was the first of many affirmations to the power of “choice” and how choice has guided my life. Thank you for touching my heart. Peace Always! Chris

  • Anne Collins

    Chris,
    Thank you! Take a minute and read what Kim Stacey wrote as the first poster to this blog. Your mom and she were on the same page. Parents who have the insight to broaden their kids horizons both in world views and experiences to create capacity for compassion should be commended. I think of your shoebox program at Christmas and your AIDS work, for example and I know mama would be happy to see you continue. Anne

  • Lynda

    My dear Anne,

    When you get down to it, we’re all ‘different’ to someone. But I love food, so I can’t imagine not ever having the chance to taste food from another culture. We miss out on so much by not experiencing the ‘different’.
    Love your ‘sis’, Lynda

    • Lynda,
      Good point! We ARE all different to someone. Normal and ordinary is relative. I know how you love to experience all types of food. How you stay so thin with all of that is beyond me! Thank you for reading my blog. Hope you might follow it. We have lots of good writers on the staff.
      Love you, little sis
      Anne