Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stranger Relations

I don’t know what it’s like to be 7 and growing up in NYC. I grew up in rural suburbia-- ponds, red barn, woods behind the house, the works. My siblings and I spent much of our days outside, rambling aimlessly with great purpose, digging in the mud with sticks and discovering Great Things like snake skins, box turtles, and imaginary bad guy hideouts wherever we went. We waved to our neighbors as they barreled down the driveway in their conversion van, and we hoped that later we could make use of their trampoline. We rode bikes and built forts and iced skated. It was wonderful.

Chloe, on the other hand, waves goodbye to the doorman, steps outside the apartment, and immediately encounters concrete, international cuisine, taxi cabs, and more diverse humanity than I could have dreamed of at 7 years of age. It is wonderful.

Chloe faces different challenges than I did at her age, and one of those challenges includes the subtle rules of stranger relations. “Never talk to strangers” has never applied less, and it has never applied more. “Never talk to strangers,” because the man across the subway aisle is staring disconcertingly and just took a bite out of his beer can (yes, that actually happened). “Never talk to strangers,” because it’s 7:00 in the morning on the uptown R train, and the half-awake straphangers want a high pitched jabber in their ears like they want a hole in the head, and we need to respect their space.

But if we never talk to strangers, how do we enter into the lives of the myriad around us? How do we come to fully appreciate the beauty of the diversity? At some point, we absolutely need to talk to strangers, and cross those lines, and become acquaintances and friends… But how in the world do I help a 7 year old know the difference? After the beer can bite incident, Chloe was terrified to sit next to any male that resembled that man. I talked to her about respect of people’s worth, about the affront it causes when we move away from them, etc… and I felt strongly about it, so I’m sure I was… eh, hem… stern with her. The next day, an unstable person sat down next to her and started leaning in. I grabbed her hand and moved away to the far end of the subway car. No wonder she is confused.

I am thrilled, though, that Chloe and I are walking this journey together. That as I move away, I can talk about mental illness and what causes it and how it can be treated. I can talk about how God’s image is still in that person… how mental illness is the result of brokenness in this world, just like any illness, and how God looks upon that person with the same unconditional, undeserved love that he lavishes on us all.

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

Beautiful reflections, as always. It's a fine line, that dance between respecting the intrinsic worth of all people as created in the image of God and keeping yourself safe. But she'll figure it out because she has a superfantastic mama.