Thursday, December 12, 2013

Embracing The Wounded

We can look to our higher angels or stoop to our lowest demons in any situation. At my best I am a a good listener, compassionate and empathetic. At my worst I am extremely judgmental, prejudiced, and even racist.

One of the things about living in a much smaller town now is that people with mental or developmental disabilities are much more noticeable. Walking down the street, in the mall food court, at the doctors office, etc. I don't know how to explain it, because in larger cities they are everywhere - they're sitting or laying along Main Street. They're just easier to ignore I guess. But in these cavernous malls with more vacant stores than shops, it's hard to not stop and look or listen.

And then marginalize. Because there's no way that I cold be like there. God no.

Obviously a shift in attitude, even a change of heart is needed. Because what is needed is not merely keeping my prejudice well hidden or toleration, but a full embrace of these women and men who might not dress well, speak eloquently, or even smell well.

Why are we - why am I - so threatened by those who are more obviously different from "regular society" than the rest of us?

It is because we are them.

If you are like me and believe in the unity of all things and particularly the unity of all people, we are the successful banker, we are the talented singer, and yes, we are the stuttering, smelly, and awkward homeless beggar whose mother drank heavily during her pregnancy.

The other night I was in the emergency department of the local hospital to get a refill for a prescription for a mental illness that I deal with (one that's not as noticeable as many are), and in the next curtain was a young man probably ten years younger than I who had also just moved to this town or was visiting. I could soon tell that he also had psychiatric conditions - they were just more obvious than mine. Yet I couldn't wait for him to be dealt with and shipped off by a cab to his temporary bed for the night.

I think a lot of this prejudice comes from our fear of our own weakness. We put walls up around our weaknesses, fortifying ourselves against the outside world  because like everyone else, we're afraid of being hurt or shunned. However, perhaps it is is the case that we can not, we dare not reach our greatness until we stoop into the gutters and not only tolerate, but embrace our weaknesses. If we can not embrace our own weakness, we will never fully accept ourselves. And if we will not accept ourselves, we can not possibly accept those who are different than us - the outcast or the ill.

Today I challenge myself to not look with disgust at my neighbours. But first, the inner work must continue.

Mark Andrew Nouwen