I pray for a messianic world in which cultures no longer demand that our bodies conform to their ideal—white, male, female, tall, thin, and so on. This is so far from current reality that I have made it a practice to imagine such a world. A Moses with Whoopi Goldberg’s skin color. An actor with Gandhi’s build in the role of Superman. Gender-nonconforming holy people, as is the case among Native Americans.
But I’ve learned in the past few years that my desire to make my situation ideal hurts instead of helps. Underneath the desire for “perfect” is a lack of acceptance for who I am. It’s a refusal to recognize I’m human and there are going to be times where I don’t feel I’m measuring up. That the whole focus on measuring up to some illusory self leads to deeper dissatisfaction, and pulls me further away from joy.
“Who wants to become a writer? And why?”
What struck me most about that day was how someone right in front of you one minute can be gone in the next. I’d always known that my mother was an only child, but I’d never understood until then what that meant. She had no siblings to share her grief, none to help with funeral arrangements, none to begin the tedious and painful process of cleaning out a lifetime of things from the small house where my mother had grown up.
It didn’t surprise me that I chose to stay home on a night that many attend parties, frequent night clubs or saunter on the streets, screaming “Happy New Year!” to strangers. Even in my youth, I never understood the appeal of New Year’s Eve. Most parties I attended in my twenties started with fervent anticipation of what the night might carry and then after midnight that magical waft of energy never quite gravitated toward my direction.
In front of me, crossing the busy street is a very young couple with three small children. They are dressed in warm clothes, but are hurrying across the dark, busy street at nine o’clock on a cold Wednesday night in December. I wonder where they’re going. The young mother’s face shows lines of worry as she carries the littlest child and shields her from the strong wind. They reach the corner where an Exxon gas station used to be. It is boarded up and dark. They step onto the curb. The light changes, and I make a right-hand turn onto the busy pike.
Reading the story of Jesus’s birth this past weekend, reciting part of the story in my Quaker meeting this past Sunday, reminded me once again that the Christmas story is the story of every mother, parent and child. Every baby is a savior. Every baby adds light to the world, hope in the darkness, a reminder of what matters. Babies help us brush away all the excess gunk in our minds and figure out what matters—new life, breath, and the all-too-quick passage of time.
And that is the world we live in—the world created by the unintentional destruction of the pipes conveying the divine light. Thus, we live in a world filled with hidden light, and it is up to us to liberate the divine sparks from the shells that hide them, by repairing the world, by righting injustice, by treating everyone and everything with loving compassion, by discerning the divine light at the core of every dark shell.
“I write because I am alone and move through the world alone. ”
As much as she is dazed about wonder, I am reluctant for her to learn the swing of the pendulum. That yes, you will love people. Some of them will become sick. And that eventually these people will pass away. That this will happen to her too. How do you tell a nine-year-old that life and loss are intertwined?
Rather than celebrate the kaleidoscope of our differences, we magnify the worst parts about the ‘other’, inevitably leading to exclusion and misunderstanding. The more we hunker down and surround ourselves with people ‘like us’ the more different everyone else seems. And the cycle continues.