What Do You Do with “Different?”

What Do You Do with “Different?”

Sometimes when I encounter someone who is so different from my world of normal, I wonder if I am handling it appropriately.  What do you do when you run into “different’?  How open are you?  Do you ignore or dismiss those who are older, younger, poorer, less attractive, less intelligent, obese, or handicapped?

A Fleeting Moment …

We were waiting at a light on the way to Village Church this morning.  Lutheran Church of the Cross is at that corner.  A nicely dressed and coiffed lady of about 90 was in a wheel chair.  She had just come out of church and was being walked home by a younger woman.  As I lazily watched the elderly lady, I noticed she held a rose in full bloom.  She raised it to her face and breathed in the fragrance several times.  Then she closed her eyes and visibly lifted her face fully to the sun with a rapturous expression.  My eyes filled-up as I contemplated:  She is the same as I…though trapped, yes, by the frailties of her body. Yet inside she loves the smell of roses and the warm sun on her face and worshiping at her church.

A Half Hour Conversation …

A couple of weeks ago, I was checking shoppers out at an estate sale.  A man next in line was trying to ask me for advice regarding some things he wanted to sell.  His stutter was the worst I have ever encountered.  A simple question was taking several minutes to complete.  I nodded my understanding, glanced at the waiting line behind him and asked if he could wait.  We then went out into the sunshine where I thought he might feel more comfortable.  It took him a long time to get out everything he wanted to tell me.  After, I gave him the information he needed.  Then I said, “I am ok with your stuttering.  I have a wonderful brother who stutters sometimes when he gets excited.”  He visibly relaxed. He thanked me for not interrupting or finishing his sentences.  That angers him when it happens, since he knows his own thoughts. Another does not.  I learned a lot from him in the next several minutes.

A Sunday Afternoon …

Let me take you back 30 years.  A shockingly ragged and smelly bum knocked on our door one Sunday afternoon. He asked for a glass of water and use of the facilities.  I invited him in.  I noticed his outer coat was horrible, stiff with grime, torn and did not fasten properly.  I offered him an extra coat of my husband’s, but he declined.  I then told him I could easily mend his coat in minutes, but he again refused. The water and facilities were all he required.  After a long while, he came back into the room.  He thanked us and handed my husband a small scrap of paper. It was a scripture reference written in dull pencil. He asked, since we were kind to him if he might say something he believed to be vital.  We agreed. He told Lou that it was very important, that he, as my husband, pray for my protection and blessing every day before I left the house.  Then he was gone!  It was so strange!

The next morning, Lou decided, even though he had never prayed out loud in front of another person before that he would do so.  The whole event was too weird not to be significant.  Though we always looked for him in that small town, we never saw him again.  That day and that bum, however, changed our lives.  It is a practice we have continued, and is one of the most meaningful turns ever on the road of our life.

More examples come to mind, but the point is this:  The 90 year old lady is different because of her age, but a few seconds revealed we feel the same about roses, worship, and sunshine.  The stuttering man is different because of his speech, but a mere half hour revealed that we both want to be respected for our intelligence and to be allowed to have our own voice.  I suppose I thought I was being very charitable when I allowed the bum into our home to partake of the bare necessities of the moment. In actuality, all he got was water.  When we respected his words, we were the ones who received something that would prove to impact the rest of our lives.

I am continuously learning that when I am open to those who are so different from me and give them the respect due them, I am the one who gains from the encounter.  Do I always do it?  I am ashamed to say that I don’t.  My encouragement to you is a reminder to me.

How do you handle “different’?

What lessons are you giving your children?

Can you recall instances where you benefited from time you gave to someone who would have been easier to ignore?  Please share!

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Molly grew up in and around funeral homes her entire life. In 2009 she began working for O'Connor Mortuary and found a bridge between her passion for writing and her interest in grief and bereavement. In 2016 she earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. She is honored to be able to write about these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective.

31 Comments

  1. Hi Anne

    This is a great reminder for all of us to love our brothers and sisters just as God loves us, without conditions. I realize that it is not as easy as it sounds. If I start to judge someone based on my limited perceptive, I try and stop my self and readjust my thinking. Who am I to cast any judgment on anyone, what makes my better than someone else, nothing.
    I personally believe when we start casting judgments on others, it is because we have no real sense of who we are and we are basically insecure with our selves. I have found that we have more in common with each other than we have in difference. Thank you for this great reminder to love each other and embrace our unique differences.

    Namaste

    • Anne Collins says:

      I agree. A sense of purpose for one’s life, for one’s day, for this very moment changes how we view every single encounter. When we lose sight of purpose, we lose sight of others. The unusual or the different in our day could very well be the most important encounter of that day. How sad if we miss it.

      As an older person, some of the things I have had trouble understanding are tattoos and piercings in odd places. I finally realize I don’t have to understand them, just embrace the person and their uniqueness and see them as an individual worthy of love and respect. I still fail when it comes to rap, but then I have more years to go here…

  2. Jeff Turner says:

    Anne,

    I shudder to think of how many opportunities I have missed out on just because I avoided someone who was placed in my path that I had a bad attitude toward. I too reflect on encounters I have had over the years and the lesson I have had to relearn too many times of the benefits that can come from valuing another because they exist. Equal value to me in God’s eyes. (Many times I would value others far above myself if I were God)

    I so appreciated these stories you shared above. You are a dear mentor to me and I will do my best to keep these lessons in my heart and daily practice. In the book “Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith, our Sunday morning small group has been working on the chapter “Learning to Live Without Judgement”. The soul training exercise for the week has been to live a day without gossip. On its face, that goal sounds simple. Then I begin listening to my thoughts, silent comments and just inappropriate attitudes about others. Wow! I have allot of work to do. The motivation? I think of the joy of just getting to know another human being and thinking of what I might have missed. Then, there is the understanding that God is (as stated so well in the book, “The Shack”) particularly fond of each one I see as I move through the day.

    Blessings upon you Anne with an “e”,

    Jeff

    • Anne Collins says:

      Thank you for sharing your heart, Jeff. Being open to others also takes time, doesn’t it? When we are pressured by our awareness of deadlines and the volume of work in our day, we will gloss over and ignore. I am finding that it takes only a minute to make someone’s day, sometimes. Where I have been walking in the morning before work, I pass by a woman who is watering her potted plants and the sidewalk where I am walking by. She looks rather funny because this is simply a front walkway and she wears a funny jumpsuit, and rubber boots to the knee. I didn’t say anything the first time or two, just made a mental judgement somewhere along the lines of “overkill”. This morning, she did not see me and I figured there was a chance of getting a second shower. So I said, “Good morning! How does your garden grow?” Turns out she was European with a heavy accent and was delighted that I asked about her flowers. Suddenly, she was no longer different, just ready to get a wet and dirty job done while saving her nicer clothes and shoes. And yes, I am certain God thinks she is pretty cool!
      Not sure if I can qualify as mentor, but appreciate your wonderful comments.

  3. April Yocky says:

    This subject is a big deal to me. For as far back as I can remember I’ve looked at people and observed from afar. Realizing our differences, pain and happiness, many cultures and beliefs, financial status, what makes someone popular or not, questioning in all this; is there really a “normal”? Yes it does sound funny when you ask yourself, what is normal anyway? We are all very different and that’s what makes us unique!
    I began as a small child noticing peoples reactions to the different in society. My aunt, God bless her, was always concerned with my questions and curiosity. While asking about a woman’s deformity I was chastised and told not to make fun. I knew in my heart of only 5 I had empathy. Or when I said I wanted a hat like the China Woman in the fields, I loved her hat and our difference in culture. One big mistake I feel parents make is telling there kids not to stare at someone with say a handicap. Better to teach them to smile, to be kind, to have a conversation. They want to be treated like an equal, like they fit in. Sure you don’t want your kids to put themselves ever in harms way with any stranger but show empathy when possible. It’s ok for you yourself to say hello, introduce yourself. Pick something up for them, get a door. be an example. I understand people have fear of the unknown. Of what’s different. Most people with disabilities will share their boundaries and limits with you. It’s easy!
    Being kind doesn’t always mean the other person will except it though either. Which brings me to the time I was in middle school and had a crush on a boy I enjoyed playing basketball with. I saw him as a guy I had something in common with. Thought we could build a friendship. He kept emotionally distant. Very angry person. He was confined to a wheel chair. The closer we became as friends the more he would make rude comments and tell me I just felt sorry for him. That cut deep and I never forgot it. It was so far from the truth. Made me question society. Myself. It prompted me to be an advocate whenever possible for the underdog. Yes you can get taken for granted sometimes but there is always someone right next to you experiencing something too great to bare. Most people you pass would enjoy a smile, something I have to remind myself of every day

    • Anne Collins says:

      April,
      Actually, your example to me was part of the inspiration to tackle this subject. From what you wrote, I can see even more how you have been aware and concerned about the feelings of others throughout your life. As mama, I knew this and always saw it first hand. When I was too intimidated by some situations, you were quietly drawing someone out and paving the way for others to include the “different” one.
      Another way you have encouraged me over our life is to take the time for the small details and intricacies of life: tiny things seen and heard during walks in the woods, the tons of stars away from light sources while camping, the subtle changes of a campfire, that shared cup of tea, examining the unusual flower, or when we completed your bug collection for your school project together years ago. I remember that was one of the first times I wrote creatively as an adult, when I wrote “Ode to a Dead Bug” and I think your teacher read it to everyone. Sounds like the beginnings of a new blog! (Tiny details, not dead bugs!)
      I love you daughter. Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts.

  4. Tom says:

    interesting

  5. Joe says:

    I always remember and share with my family that just because someone is different still keep in mind that this is a person who has a heart and a soul and it comes back to treating everyone the same as you would like to be treated yourself. I had too struggle with this on a daily basis with my step daughter emily who is disabled and can not communicate verbally with words, she communicates through feelings and sounds she makes , even as she was different to me she has a loving quality that only she can share in her own way and this is an unconditional love that shines brighter and has touched my heart over the years. I am glad Emily is different because she has taught me too love in a different way and I would not be a better person today if it was not for her being different.

    • Anne Collins says:

      Emily is a perfect example of what I was talking about. My daughter dated a wonderful young man named Scott when she was a teen. She kept telling me she wanted me to meet his wonderful brother, which I thought was strange, since Scott is who she cared for. I finally met him and he was also a teenager, with Downs Syndrome. What a loving, open and accepting young man he was. I was instantly smitten, too. She didn’t tell me ahead of time, why she was so impressed with him, but let me decide for myself when I met him. He probably encountered a few people who didn’t take time to know him here and there, but I was better for having known both boys. Scott was struck down very young with cancer, but he took on every single young person in the cancer wards where he spent his last years and made a huge difference by loving the “different” in his world. It sounds like Emily is lucky to have you to love, Joe. Thanks for sharing.

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