Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to accompany one of my best friends to Beijing, China for 2 weeks of… well, a lot of hanging out and doing nothing 😉 . We had certain expectations going in that he would be busy for a good part of the day, but we would have some time to get out, do some sightseeing and, of course, find some good food. Unfortunately, the “good part of the day” turned into pretty much all day, every day. To make it more difficult, we were not in a place to get to the city at all. Not to be outdone, I took as many opportunities as I could to strike out on my own, get out in the hot sun, explore, and take some pictures.
As the temperatures were a “nice” 95 – 105f in the afternoons, getting out early was a necessity. One of the things I loved doing was spending time in the garden in front of the place we were staying. In the garden there was a Koi pond, benches and gazebos to sit, relax and reflect, and walking paths lined with speakers made to look like natural stones, playing soothing music for your time of reflection and meditation.
To the back of the garden, there were these beautifully ornate large pieces of pottery. They looked like they were there to adorn the garden, to accent the natural beauty of the trees, plants and flowers and to show the beauty of Chinese craftsmanship.
They were actually, trashcans…
Imagine my surprise and mix of feelings as I had been taking in the beauty of the garden, the natural and man-made creation, and was faced with the fact that this thing I thought was so beautiful, was just “a” … trashcan.
Just “a”… really?
One of the good things about these trips is they give me plenty of time to think, to reflect and to analyze the circumstances around me. My thoughts turned to what is valuable, and valued by people and cultures around the world and in particular, in my country. In The United States, there is currently a civil war going on over basically, sets of values. If you see things one way, you fall into one camp, and those in the other camp cannot be your friend, associate, relative or anything. It has gotten so bad that during one of the last presidential campaign gatherings, one of the pastors giving the invocation called “the other group” – fellow Americans, mind you – the enemy. All because this group has a different take on the “pottery” – the values that make up the society. What’s worse, is that the language and rhetoric of the day is becoming increasingly negative toward anything that is viewed as contrary to my own personal value system. Shaming has become such a popular term and practice, not just against the weird and outlandish, but against anything that doesn’t fit my preference. Basically, if you don’t line up to what I think is acceptable, you are just “a” (insert your derogatory term of choice).
But, as Kyle Broflovski is wont to say, “I learned something today”. While it is easy to categorize the trash can as just that – just “a” trash can, it is actually much more. It is a trash can, for sure, but it is also a piece of ornate pottery. It is also a piece of a garden’s serenity. With the writing on it, it is also a storyteller. Basically speaking, there is not just one way of looking at something, but a myriad of ways, whether it be a trash can, a set of values, or the person ahead of you in line to get coffee.
When people see me, they correctly identify me as a black man. I am, however, much more than that. I am a conglomeration of multiple tribes from the African continent, from the North American continent and from parts of Europe. And that is just my bloodline. I am a father, a musician, a writer, an actor, an athlete (an out of shape athlete, but an athlete nonetheless 😉 ), a pastor, a part time chef, and a few other things I can’t think of at the moment. In addition, I have received so much knowledge, wisdom, love, laughter and memories from people from every part of the globe that I can say I am a part of them as well.
I am more, and so are you, and so is everyone you encounter. It doesn’t matter where they are from, their family history, their belief system. What matters is that they are a person worthy of value because they carry a world of treasures within them. Had the pastor who called the other group enemies considered that some of those that he vilified might have attended his church… might have been members of his family… might have been people that instructed him and helped him get to the place he was – maybe he might have seen more in them than a political party. Maybe if he realized that they had names… that they were not just “a” voting constituency, but they were Jim, and Carol, and Ahmed, and Zhun… that they were more than just “a”… maybe his prayer would have been different.
I had coffee with a friend from church who asked me about my trip, my other mission trips, and about the socio-political landscape of the nations I had visited. He also shared with me some of the work he is doing in the community, and how the disenfranchised he works with, that had been identified as just “an” addict, or just “a” homeless person, or just “a” (insert negative term here), over time had become his friends. Now he calls them by name, and sees so much more in them than their social label. I told him for me it was the same way. The biggest revelation was that the people I would go to visit were more than the propaganda that I had heard. It would give me the ability to sit down with a Buddhist monk and talk about life from both perspectives; to hang out with a homeless person and be refreshed and encouraged because of their faith; to see that sometimes, my giving is in receiving, and calling those around me brothers and sisters, even though they may look, sound and believe very different from me.
I am not just “a”. Neither are you. Neither is the person down the street. We are all more, and will be more, the more we accept the “more” others have to share.
One of the challenges of our global society is what to do with our disposables. There are piles of trash on our land and in our oceans that are there because we have labeled and responded to certain things as just “a”. Some pretty ingenious people have taken these disposables and have shown that there is more to them than meets the eye. Take, for example, what can be done with old flip-flops…
Raquel Orlando is a person I know very little about… actually I know nothing about her. Except for the fact that I know that she is more. How do I know? Well, she wrote a poem about this very subject for her education class at Montclair State University, and posted a stunning video representation of that poem. I love that at the end she challenges everyone to get to know the real her. That is a challenge we all should be willing to both issue, and to accept. 🙂
My challenge to you… Let me know in the comments, who is more to you, and why? Also, who have you encouraged for being more in your life (if you haven’t, now is a good time to start).
Here’s another post I wrote on the same subject, a few years back 🙂