Sunday, March 21, 2010

Finding the Gift

Some people say that everything happens for a reason. My own belief is that whatever happens holds a gift for me, a lesson that can propel me forward, even if only slightly. On the one hand, I understand why someone would be comforted by the idea that their auto collision happened as a part of a greater plan. That concept bothers me, though. Not only is there no way to know whether or not it's true, the idea defers responsibility and credit for the events of my life. If I happen to be in an auto collision, however, I believe that I can find at least one gift in that experience if I look for it. Some verifiable truth about myself, or other people, or life itself.

This afternoon, I spent a few hours at a community celebration of the Persian New Year. I am not Persian (although I was told that I have a Persian nose!), so I was a bit of an outsider in the festivities. As I observed people, I saw a great deal of connection among them. It was a bona fide display of community. And when I mentioned this to someone, he replied in a very matter-of-fact tone, "Many of the people are here because they cannot be in their own country, and yet they do not feel a sense of belonging in America. So it is important to them to be connected with people who share that in common."

Unable to be in community with some of their loved ones who remain behind, they are living in a place where they have greater chance for safety and success. Yet there are frequent reminders that they are cultural outsiders in many ways. And in the midst of that challenging situation, they find a healthy way to "belong" with one another. Many of them even envision a culture in which everyone will truly belong, but for the time being, solidarity among those with a similar cultural experience has greater importance. That connection is a gift. That unity is a strength.

Of course, there are many examples of cultures that have found that gift, even in American history. With minds that love to categorize things and itemize differences, it is a gift when we are able to focus instead on commonalities. What I found as I continued to interact with people at the celebration was an even greater gift. I was only an outsider in my own mind, as long as I was enumerating all of the differences. Despite having a radically different cultural experience, I was welcome. Although I did not share their heritage, I could appreciate it. There was willingness on both sides to find unity.

I'm not sure I believe in artificial inclusiveness, primarily because I don't believe it ultimately addresses the fundamental reason for segregation: how people think. When people are willing to see similarities and create inclusion, however, I believe there is the potential for great strength to result. And I am grateful for the opportunity to bear witness to and participate in that gift today.

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