Friday, November 06, 2009

equal justice

What is the great equalizer of humanity? I think I got a glimpse of it in the airport yesterday. I was scoping out the outlet possibilities while I waited for my flight. You'll always find the geeks and business men at the outlets. I sat down next to a business man, who was clearly sending out vibes to not sit there - but there weren't many other options to grab an outlet and frankly I felt I had every right to be there as him - right? He was on his cell phone - typical. But before I knew it, I was drawn into a conversation that shattered my preconceptions.

This white, middle-aged business man just recently learned that his wife had some sort of stroke that day at lunch. His wife is in intensive care, incoherent, facing possible surgery and further complications. As he talks to a doctor, I can feel all his walls crumbling down. He is desperate to find out what is going on and what he needs to do. He is hanging on by a thread, but maintains his composure and uses that business brain he's been training all these years to cover all options, possibilities and outcomes. I was completely drawn into his suffering. As his walls came down, my prejudices about white, middle-aged business men evaporated. We were both just humans then.

When I got on the plane, I started reading a manuscript, Why God? that my friend Bob McAdams asked me to read. Right on the first page, he writes that "when any of us stands facing a reality that is unbearable, we cry out against whatever fate or providence or divine plan or human purpose brought this pain to us ... the intensity of our sorrow opens our hearts to the sorrow of others."

I think that pure love and joy also have this equalizing property, but when speaking of justice issues, we are speaking of suffering. It's in the suffering that we can actually identify with those living in such different circumstances than ourselves. We all know what suffering feels like. We all feel some gut instinct to help our fellow man out of their suffering. We may not know what to say or do, but the instinct is there. It is this instinct that we need to follow into the uncomfortable world of those suffering injustice. It is this instinct that levels the playing field of humanity when we sit next to each other and start to listen.

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