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Elvis Summers gets it.
To be quite honest, I don’t think I really get it in the way Elvis Summers does. Not really. Not experientially. Like Mr. Summers, I grew up in America, the land of individual rights and private property. But somehow he was able to see beyond his cultural indoctrination.
I saw Mr. Summers’ story on FaceBook. There’s a video of him building a little “home” for a homeless woman named Smokie. It’s wonderful that he was able to reach beyond his own needs and help someone less fortunate than himself; but that’s not what stuck with me about this story. Lots of people reach out to others.
His idea of building this little home was unconventional, out of the box, but that’s not what captured my attention either. We are a culture of invention and ingenuity.
What occurred to me about Mr. Summers’ story is that he saw Smokie, not as “a homeless person” but as his neighbor.
How many of us, seeing a homeless person sleeping in our yard, would think of that person as our neighbor? Doesn’t that mean that they pay for a house on our street? Isn’t this person a trespasser?
No. Smokie is Elvis Summer’s neighbor. He sees her as his neighbor, as someone he is connected to. Her plight is connected to his. They share space…the earth.
I wrote once about Jesus calling “the bent over woman” “a daughter of Abraham”. Jesus saw something other than her description, other than her illness. He saw her truth. Mr. Summers saw beyond descriptions like “homeless person” and “trespasser” and saw Smokie, his neighbor. He saw his connection to her.
It’s important that we develop awareness of our automated relationships to things. When we listen to the language we use, we can gain insight to unconscious, indoctrinated beliefs. Become aware of the internal dialog that frames yourself as set-apart; separate, different, better, less-than. Become open to seeing the ways your language separates. Is that a vagrant or your neighbor? Do you see the offense or the suffering human being?
Another video circulating around the internet is called “Overview”. Its theme orbits around the view of the earth from outer space and the way this image, first seen in 1968, dramatically changed our orientation. The astronauts interviewed were all deeply struck by the fragility and interconnectedness of our planet. Thich Nhat Hanh calls this Interbeing and it’s the focal point of his teachings.
In countless ways, each day, we have opportunities to separate or connect; to see ourselves as isolated or as part of an interwoven tapestry.
Listen to your language. Spend time people watching and seeing your unconscious assumptions about and orientation to others. Find ways to challenge your isolation and opportunities to connect.