“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”~ Atticus Finch
I am heartsick in the wake of the past few weeks’ events. The hits just keep on coming as social media streams pictures, words, and videos spewing a feeding frenzy of vitriolic hatred. Our collective pain and hurt is rising to a fever pitch. It is easy to jump to conclusions and form opinions. It is easy to make unfair judgements. I must confess that I have succumbed to building some of my “truths” on a single story here and there. However, Chimamanda Adichie, in her heartfelt words, greatly inspired me to open my eyes to the dangers of misunderstanding and prejudice that may take root when I do this. I am hopeful that others will do the same, in that they will not judge me on a single story or as a member of a collective group. The naked truth is that parents have lost their children. Spouse’s have lost their mates. Children have lost their parents. America has lost. We. have. all. lost.
The words of Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird nailed it. He, too, was talking about prejudice. Although I want to be able, I can not even pretend to understand the perspective of walking in those skins of being black, of being gay, of being transgender, or of being a policeman forced to come face-to-face with mortality decisions that have to be made in a split second every. single. day. I have never been hungry or homeless. I don’t know what it feels like to live in a place where violence is the rule, rather than the exception, or to be surrounded by the fear of death at the hands of others. I can’t imagine the confusion and loneliness of not feeling right in my own skin and yet expected to follow the norm of my gender. I have lived in the safety of my vanilla cocoon, and I freely admit that I have taken much for granted in that residence. I only know what it feels like to be me….a white heterosexual female, growing up in the south, to a middle class family of two working parents who assumed a future for me that included college, marriage, and a professional job. It is my story. I am thankful for it. I can try to imagine and empathize with those from a different background, but there is clearly a line I am unable to cross because the suitcase I carry doesn’t contain the tools to relate to them without looking too simplistic, presumptuous and patronizing. I have my own baggage and my own sins and shame and maybe they couldn’t relate to mine either. I acknowledge that I am in the shallow end of a very deep ocean of un-lived experiences and therefore unable to reach out and grasp the mindset that I need to truly understand. I want to, but wanting to isn’t enough.
Despite my ability to truly understand, I deeply care and don’t wish to remain silent. I want to get out of my comfort zone and wade into this mess instead of shying away. I want to put my Faith into action. I want to love my neighbor. Who is my neighbor? I think the answer is crystal clear … everyone with whom I come eyeball-to-eyeball made in the image of God. My mantra should become: What does love require of me? I am accountable, not to them, but to Him. I know that I can’t connect with how we are different, but I can try with how we are the same. We share the knowledge of what it feels like to want to be understood, to feel worth, to have value, and to matter. On those platforms I can start building my bridge. I am not promising that I will get it right every single time. I can only promise to try. I can promise to educate myself from someone who is different, because making it personal helps to break stereotypes. I can pray that God will show me where my heart needs to change, so that I am moved to try harder. To all my neighbors….. I sincerely grieve your loss, and I extend my hand and heart in the hopes and prayers of building a bridge of understanding.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ~ Matthew 22: 36-40