Open­ing to the Spirit

To­day’s word: Other

Sherbrooke Record - - COLUMNIST - By Revs Mead Bald­win, W. Lynn Dil­l­abough, Lee Ann Hogle, and Ca­role Mar­tig­nacco

1

) The Other. Peo­ple in our world who are dif­fer­ent from us. For some this term is some­thing to be afraid of. There was ac­tu­ally a hor­ror movie in the seven­ties called “The Other”, and an­other haunted house mys­tery called "The Other" in the eight­ies.

Our me­dia th­ese days is great at giv­ing us bad news from around the world. It's tempt­ing to live in fear and sur­round our­selves with peo­ple who are “just like us”. Many mis­trust im­mi­grants or refugees, and ex­press the sen­ti­ment that we should save our char­ity for peo­ple "like us". And yet . . .

Some­thing re­mark­able has hap­pened over the past week. There was a hor­ri­ble tragedy a few days ago in Hum­boldt, Saskatchewan. A truck crashed into a bus­load of ju­nior hockey play­ers and many team mem­bers and helpers died. I once coached mi­nor hockey and rode many busses to games. I can only imag­ine what agony that community is go­ing through. Not many Cana­di­ans are hockey play­ers from Saskatchewan, yet the heart­felt com­pas­sion and gen­er­ous do­na­tions have been pour­ing in. I put my hockey stick on my front porch in sol­i­dar­ity with them. Though in an ironic way they rep­re­sent “the other” for many Cana­di­ans, our com­pas­sion is lim­it­less.

April is po­etry month, and I am re­minded of a poem by Charles Meigs en­ti­tled “Oth­ers”. Writ­ten as a prayer, it ex­presses the thought that the way to do some­thing for God is by serv­ing oth­ers, in deeds and prayers. Help me live for oth­ers. I think this a great sen­ti­ment. We have demon­strated over the past week that Cana­di­ans have em­pa­thy. I want to ex­pand that em­pa­thy to peo­ple from other coun­tries, cul­tures, and re­li­gions. My fond­est wish is that “the Other” can be seen not as some­one to be afraid of, but rather to wel­come and cel­e­brate.

2

) Where I grew up the word dif­fer­ent was used as an in­sult. “She’s dif­fer­ent!” meant that there was some­thing wrong with her. “That’s dif­fer­ent!” meant you should be sus­pi­cious. The cof­fee was weak, spices were salt and pep­per, and the un­ex­pected was un­wel­come.

There were three fam­i­lies in our vil­lage that I re­mem­ber as “other”. One fam­ily made them­selves other by driv­ing to town to at­tend a dif­fer­ent church. One fam­ily was other be­cause they were so poor they had no run­ning water in their house and were of­ten dirty. One fam­ily was other be­cause they were rich and had re­cently moved to the vil­lage. As with any cul­ture, there were many un­spo­ken rules for be­hav­iour. Be nor­mal. Don’t be weird. Pun­ish those who are.

I’m not sure what hap­pened to me, but I have al­ways been drawn to the other. I played with the poor kids, even though my mother did not let me. I also be­friended the rich boy who was teased mer­ci­lessly by my class­mates. I was a weirdo my­self, for rea­sons I did not un­der­stand, and I found my­self drawn to oth­ers who were at the edges.

Mov­ing to the city was a new life for me. I was now “other” with my funny ac­cent and lack of knowl­edge about many things. A bagel with cream cheese was an ex­otic food I was afraid to try. Soon I felt at home and em­braced the di­ver­sity of city life. It is pretty hard to be weird when you live down­town - and even if you are, that's per­fectly OK.

I don’t know what it is that makes me drawn to the other rather than afraid. But I am glad God made us in won­der­ful va­ri­ety. Dif­fer­ent may not al­ways be good but it is not au­to­mat­i­cally bad. Try the strong cof­fee. Say hello to some­one out­side your nor­mal cir­cle. Travel with an open heart. Refuse to dis­miss some­one or some ex­pe­ri­ence just be­cause they are “other”.

3

) "One of th­ese things is not like the oth­ers, one of th­ese things just doesn't be­long!" The Ernie Quiz was a catchy Se­same Street les­son in crit­i­cal think­ing for preschool­ers. Ob­ser­va­tion, clas­si­fi­ca­tion, com­pare and con­trast are ways of or­ga­niz­ing in­for­ma­tion. Use­ful skills ap­plied in all the sciences, lan­guage stud­ies, medicine, law, com­mu­ni­ca­tions or just about any dis­ci­pline re­quir­ing us to iden­tify pat­terns of sim­i­lar­ity and dif­fer­ence.

And it worked. One day I dis­cov­ered my four-year old sit­ting in the mid­dle of the din­ing room floor, cheer­fully chant­ing the jin­gle while sort­ing and fold­ing a pile of clean socks from the laun­dry bas­ket.

On the other hand, in my fam­ily of ori­gin, the other was the one you wanted to in­clude when­ever you planned a party. We were a fam­ily of nine - a party al­ready, but al­ways the ques­tion was asked: be­sides our­selves, who else should we in­vite?

Too of­ten other is a word that sets things apart. We speak of events on the other side of the world as hap­pen­ing to them not us, for­get­ting that we live in one in­ter­de­pen­dent world. We en­counter the stranger as "other" and are aware of any num­ber of dif­fer­ences like eth­nic­ity, lan­guage, or cul­ture. When we for­get our com­mon hu­man­ity, of­ten for the most triv­ial rea­sons, oth­er­ness be­comes an ex­cuse to ex­clude.

Yet in the Hindu tra­di­tion, there's a say­ing: At­man is Brah­min. Mean­ing es­sen­tially this is that, there is no other. Re­mind­ing us that our pen­chant for sep­a­rat­ing and clas­si­fy­ing should not ob­scure the re­al­ity that all life is one. That what­ever de­tails dis­tin­guish us as in­di­vid­u­als, we are one in our com­mon life, in a uni­verse whose very struc­ture is uni­fied. What we have in com­mon is more ba­sic than what di­vides us. And ev­ery­one, ev­ery­thing - not de­spite but be­cause of dif­fer­ences - does in­deed be­long!

4

) On an­other note en­tirely, it's Friday the 13th! Many wake up ex­pect­ing to­day will be the un­luck­i­est day of the year, a su­per­sti­tion usu­ally traced back to that fate­ful day in Oc­to­ber 1307 when the Knights Tem­plar were am­bushed and ex­e­cuted in Paris. That the num­ber 13 is some­how un­lucky dates back to be­fore the com­mon era, along with a no­tion that bad things hap­pen on Fri­days. Th­ese two fears col­lide to re­in­force each other.

Dis­as­ters that oc­cur all the rest of the year are more eas­ily re­mem­bered if they fall on this date. How many can you name? In1970 a cy­clone in Bangladesh kills hun­dreds of thou­sands; a plane crashes in the An­des back in 1972; a cruise ship cap­sizes in 2012 off the Ital­ian coast; the Novem­ber 13, 2015 ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Paris.

Does it help you to know that in all of 2018, to­day is the only Friday the 13th? A Dutch in­sur­ance firm study has de­ter­mined that it's ac­tu­ally one of the luck­i­est days of the year. Per­haps ev­ery­one is a bit more cau­tious, so there are fewer car ac­ci­dents and house fires on Friday the 13th. Time to seize the day and en­joy it for all it's worth!

One word, four voices voices - and now it's your turn: What are your thoughts on this word other?

Rev. Mead Bald­win pas­tors the Water­ville & North Hat­ley pas­toral charge; Rev. Lynn Dil­l­abough is now Rec­tor of St. Paul's in Brockville ON. She con­tin­ues to write for this col­umn as a ded­i­cated col­league with the East­ern Town­ships clergy writ­ing team; Rev. Lee Ann Hogle min­is­ters to the Ayer’s Cliff, Ma­gog & Georgeville United Churches; Rev. Ca­role Mar­tig­nacco is Con­sult­ing Min­is­ter to UU Es­trie-uni­tar­ian Univer­sal­ists in North Hat­ley.

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