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.

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I Have Questions

photo from Google images

photo from Google images

It occurs to me that when you avoid a “taboo” topic of conversation and I dive face first into one, that maybe, we are trying to convey the same message–compassion.

This is a new revelation to me as I’ve been historically puzzled by those who don’t ask questions. I’ve always found it particularly odd when family members and supposedly close friends dance daintily around elephants plopped smack in the middle of the room.

Examples:

  • You meet a friend for coffee. You know she’s been struggling with something personal because she’s either previously told you or you heard about it from a mutual friend. You avoid the topic. But I say, “So I heard you’re having a rough go. Wanna talk about it?”
  • Your teenage son’s buddy comes over. You remember something about his having a girlfriend. You offer the kids pizza rolls and return to loading the dishwasher. But I say, “Still have that girlfriend? How are things going? Is she smart? Is she funny? Do her parents like you? Do your parents like her?”
  • A relative or college friend is getting married. You know her fiancé has a child from a previous relationship. You attend all the pre-wedding festivities and behave as if you’ve known the child its whole life. (Which is good btw. Always be kind to children.) But I ask the bride-to-be, “Was your fiancé married before? Does the child have a relationship with the mother? Do you? I honor your commitment to becoming a step-parent. But it must be challenging in some ways. Tell me about that.”

So, to be clear, I don’t necessarily pour out all of my questions in the sequential style of an interrogator. I understand the dance of discussion. And I’m talking about people we have relationships with. (Or maybe not. I do tend to ask strangers questions too.) But the fact is, I do ask questions. Questions other people seem too afraid or too indifferent to ask. I suppose I’m just curious about people. I don’t want to guess or assume or conjure up my own ideas about how things are going with you. I’d rather hear it from you. And how better to know what’s really going on than to ask questions?

Before you begin to think I have no boundaries, let me share a few examples of topics I’ll most likely ask you about that others might not:

  • Your relationships
  • Your work/education/career status, goals, hopes and dreams
  • Your faith/spiritual life
  • Your physical and mental health
  • Your kids (But mostly if your kids are over 5 years old and are capable of doing more interesting things than making poop in the potty. Cause, eventually we can all do that. So although you’re excited, it’s not that impressive.)

And some topics I probably won’t ask you about because I do have boundaries or they don’t really help me know you in any meaningful way or I don’t really care all that much:

  • Your finances
  • Your sex life (Gross.)
  • Your fitness routine (Gah! Shut up already. You’re fit or really want to be. Good for you.)
  • Your politics (I can already tell from talking to you.)

I ask questions because I’m interested in you. I care about you. I want to know you better. And I’ve always believed that others avoided asking questions because they’re either too bashful or too self-involved or think they already know all the answers or don’t really care all that much. But I may be wrong about the non-questioners in some instances. We just may be trying to convey the same message of sensitivity and care; you by keeping silent on some matters, me by speaking up.

I think this is most relevant when it comes to people’s personal lives. Even though the media makes huge efforts to convince us that all personal things are fit for public consumption, many still believe personal relationships and problems are off limits. Which is funny since most people have no problem dishing about the serial mating habits of some insecure and drug-addled movie star but won’t dare ask a friend if they’re lonely.

My revelation has been that some believe asking such questions is intrusive and judgmental. People say nothing not because they don’t care, but because they don’t wish to offend or open old wounds. And sometimes the silent types, the non-questioners believe I’m being needlessly nosey or rude.

But I believe we’ve misjudged each other. You’re trying to show compassion by keeping silent. I’m trying to show compassion by being inquisitive. Is one way better than the other? Should you speak up? Should I shut up?

Discuss…

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