I Am an Outlier

Do you highlight or underline the profound things you discover while reading? Do you try to commit to memory the insights or inspirations of others so you can ponder them or share them in conversation? Do the words you read sometimes haunt you and remind you of how you want to do and be better?

For me, all yes.

In September I read a magazine article about genocide survivors. Okay yes. I read deeply, sometimes darkly. But it’s what draws me toward the light. Truly. As in this case. I think. You decide…

Anyway, a line from the article that stuck with me:

“My lack of proximity to suffering is what marks me as different–the outlier in a world full of horror.”

In my heart, I know this to be true. But in my insulated suburban American life, it can be easy to forget. To believe my life is normal. Something to be expected, earned or entitled to–not the fragile and maybe even momentary gift that it is.

I read about pioneers and marvel at how I don’t need to labor from sun up to sun down to produce my own food.

I read about revolutions and tyranny and how those with hate and revenge in their hearts massacre their own countrymen and I realize how I get to travel undeterred without fear of physical violence when going about my business.

I read about disease and infirmity and I praise God every time I put two feet on the floor in the morning. For now, my mind and body work particularly well considering my age and reluctance to exercise. (Mostly) clean living and privilege clearly contribute to my health but are no guarantee. Calamity can strike as it pleases.

“My lack of proximity to suffering is what marks me as different–the outlier in a world full of horror.”

We may try to avoid getting too close to suffering for fear that it is infectious the way we avoid sugar or secondhand smoke.

After three years of volunteering at a local nursing home, I needed to stop because it was as if old age and disability began to come at me faster and faster. I wanted to focus on the space that still remains in my timeline between two feet on the floor and two feet being washed by an angel.

That’s okay. I needed the reprieve. But it’s not always okay. Do unto others is not just about being polite while in line at Target. (Although some of you could work on that.) For me, Do unto others… is also about recognizing how blessed I am and how life as I know it can change in an instant. And how it will most likely change in ways I will not welcome as I age. Independence is an illusion. We must care for one another.

Somebody in my life or in your life is closer to suffering than us. Who will help them? Who will care for them? Who will sacrifice for them? We are called to do these things. And if empathy and kindness do not come naturally, and I admit that they do not come naturally to me, than I must commit these kinds of words to memory:

“My lack of proximity to suffering is what marks me as different–the outlier in a world full of horror.”

Words like these remind me to be grateful. To be prayer-ful. To be helpful. To understand that just because my life can seem a bit heavenly since I do not suffer (at the moment), this is not heaven. And until I reach heaven, I must do my part to bring a little heaven into the lives of others.

If you are suffering, may you be blessed by someone (or some words) today. May your burden be lighter and your mood lifted by love. If you are beyond suffering for the moment or have yet to endure suffering, I encourage you to take a moment to give thanks and share a bit of kindness to someone today who may be closer to suffering than you.