Fungible

I had a whole post planned for today. Not written, but drafted, with a solid introduction to my intention for this fortnight. I was going to share how my opinions are formed, from thought to research to cross-referencing to sources to conclusion. It is all nicely laid out. Maybe I’ll do it tomorrow!

But today had other plans.

Strangers approach me a lot, or they did when we shared public spaces. I’ve been asked for directions on city trails, help reaching things on high shelves, the price of unmarked items, whether stores are “cute” inside, how many miles the next town might be.

As introverted and aloof as I tend to be, I like being asked. I like helping people. Because I keep to myself, my opportunities for helping people are limited, so when someone sees me, acknowledges that I exist in the form of this quiet person, I don’t hesitate to provide what I can.

Once upon a time, I was a Catholic who became a born-again Christian. Steeped in the Catholic tradition of guilt and penance, I took a short bath in the bracing waters of “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you do unto Me” world of evangelical teaching. That ethos is the sole nugget of wisdom I retained from my time in c/Churches, and the Golden Rule is at the center of most of my political and societal opinions: Treat each other the way you want to be treated. If thinking that god resides in the heart of every person makes you do a better job of treating people well, then go ahead and think that.

I believe each of us is animated with the same divine energy from which our beliefs about god are formed. It is our desire to see and know something greater than ourselves, and to be connected to that something greater, that drove us to create deity, to form organized rituals around worshiping that deity. It is the initial impetus around the creation of all religion.

As an atheist who believes not in a god but in this divine spark, I believe we are connected to each other, and must treat each other with the same generosity and kindness we would show a god. We must treat each other with the kindness and compassion we would like for ourselves.

This afternoon, I had a deity on my porch looking for help.

She was a young woman, mid-twenties, barefoot and trembling. She held a small clutch or wallet and nothing else. She wasn’t able to say anything but “I need . . . I don’t know . . . ” for several minutes.

COURTESY FR. ALEX MARTIN, ST. BARNABAS
Twenty minutes after a “homeless Jesus” sculpture was installed on the grounds of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Bay Village, someone called the cops. 
for story, go here

She was distressed, disjointed, unable to follow a single thought through to speech. I sat with her for 10 minutes on my porch, and she didn’t share any details of what was happening. I thought she might be running from trauma, like a car accident or abuse by a domestic partner, and I knew she needed time to regulate her system.

I gave her a blanket. I brought her some tea. She spoke some, answering questions unrelated to the events that brought me to her door. When I got on the phone to the domestic abuse hotline, she looked at me with panic in her eyes and begged me to hang up.

I hung up, and she sobbed. Clearly, whatever she didn’t want to say was so painful that she couldn’t bear the weight of it anymore.

When her breathing became ragged, I taught her the slow, deep breathing Tim and I have been practicing when we’re overwhelmed. Four-count slow breath in, four-count slow breath out. Breathe down into your pelvis. Help your parasympathetic nervous system rearrange the electric current into a more manageable stream.

She breathed. She kept at it. She drank her tea and took deep breaths. She said she really wished she could talk to her mother.

Eventually, police came and resolved the situation. She had a complicated past and the part she couldn’t say out loud was the part she was most ashamed of, silence sealed in place by guilt.

She gave me one last, long, frightened look before they took her away. I wanted to hold her safe in the blanket and keep her from shivering. What she had to do next she had to do alone.

It doesn’t matter that I don’t know her whole story. Or that she might have done bad things before. She was a person in need. She was me. She was the divine calling out, the vulnerable and ashamed and alone and afraid of what she’d done, of what she knew was coming.

If I can’t see god in that beautiful, terrified face, then there must be something wrong with me.

We are called to care for each other. That is our purpose as humans; to take care of each other.

That takes action, and humility, and a recognition of the divine humanity that lives in every other human being we encounter.

That care for each other is what has been destroyed by the resident of the Oval and current administration, and it is what I am desperately hoping we will return to ourselves on November 3. It is up to us to return that divine humanity to ourselves with purpose and determination.

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