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?
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!