Years ago, likely in the months prior to starting seminary, I told a friend that I thought one of the things I had going for me was that in many ways I was “normal”.
Ugh. I remember little of the context in which I said it, but it likely was about what I might offer someday as a UU minister. Since then, that one sentence has been like an internal ghost, alive in my memory, haunting me in times of doubt and self-criticism.
Yes, as a straight white guy, I’ve been brought up to see myself as normal. And so much of my lived education, both before and after making that remark, has been learning how limited that sense of normalcy really is.
So when I think about our theme of what it means to be a community of identity this month, this is what comes first to mind: how do we help one another see ourselves as clearly as possible within the larger context of humanity?
Time and time again, life has brought into sharp relief the lesson that what I took for “normal” was actually a perspective created by a rather specific cultural lens. And taking that perspective as normal hindered my curiosity about other ways any given experience might be seen or understood.
When I was working with Cambodian families in St. Paul, Minnesota we were part of a program helping families of a particular elementary school to help the Cambodian children learn better. Following a talk to the teachers before the start of classes, a male teacher came up to me to let me know that as a Vietnam vet, he was proud to finally be able to help heal some of the wounds he had a part in creating back during the war. I was thrilled to hear this, and mentioned it as soon as I returned to our office. Only my perspective was not the same as that of our Cambodian parents. The words “Vietnam vet” and “school” hooked a vivid memory for them of when a former vet started shooting at a school in Long Beach, California years before. So on the first day of classes no Cambodian students showed up for school. By the end of the week the students were back in their classes, but this was not the start to the school year any of us had wanted. But boy, had I learned a lot.
In The Game of Thrones, when Ygritte said, “You know nothing Jon Snow” she was talking about me.
Normal? This little world is far too big for any single norm. Working out what we mean and how we can best relate and work together will always be part of the work at hand. And as long as we stay curious, lead with our human vulnerability and remember the need to balance pride with humility, we’ll likely get along well enough.
one step at a time,