So as usual we were running late to church this week. This happens every week. Every week. TJ dropped the girls and me off at the door, and we ran in to get a seat. We were lucky enough to squeeze in at the last moment and snatch a seat in the adoration chapel in the back. Otherwise, we would have been stuck standing for the entire hour which is not pleasant with three little kids.
Eventually TJ got the car parked and came in to meet us. We took off our coats, got comfortable, and started participating in the mass.
Shortly after the homily started, a middle aged women left her seat a few rows in front of us. She had an odd look on her face — a bit haggard, a bit wild, a bit off. She was wearing heavy boots and jeans, and as she walked, she stomped each of her heavy boots on the ground creating quite the commotion. She did this all the way to the back and out the back doors, and then she did it again a little while later as she returned to her seat.
I remember her vividly, and I remember thinking something was wrong with her. She’s not normal, I thought.
And then like a slap in the face, I caught myself. “Not normal.” After seeing this woman for a grand total of maybe 60 seconds, I had deemed her off and abnormal and different from myself. The judgment was snap. It happened in a moment. It’s the kind of judgment we make all day every day as we go through our lives.
And then it hit me.
She is not normal. But I am not normal. You are more than likely not normal. This woman, however, just had the misfortune to wear her abnormal on the outside.
We can all think back to grammar school and remember the kids who weren’t normal. Those whose hair was a bit different or whose speech was a bit off or who liked bands that weren’t in the eighth grade main stream. We remember how they were treated… mocked and ridiculed. And we now hold conferences and write papers and do studies about these kids and about how we can get the “mean kids” to treat them better.
But perhaps when we examine these junior high dynamics, it’s not a window we’re looking through but rather a mirror. Because how different are we? As a culture, how accepting are we of people who wear their abnormal on the outside? How kind are we to the family with the food stamps or the young, single mother with three kids? How accepting are we of the ones whose abnormal affects their hygiene or their appearance or the language they speak? How accomodating are we to the group that worships a different god or who has strange ideas about life and death, joy and pain? How wide do we open our arms to the alcoholic or to the angry or to the instigators?
Our world is full of people who wear their abnormal on the outside, and it’s full of people who may act in kindness towards them but who deep down inside are seperating themselves — us versus them. Normal versus abnormal. Satisfactory versus unsatisfactory. We pride ourselves on our charity and our volunteering and our open mindedness and the kind words we speak, but if we fail to identify with those who wear abnormal as an outer cloak, how just are we being? Isn’t our internal seperation just as profound as the mocks of the junior high kids?
What struck me most when this woman walked past was that what was most different about her wasn’t that she was abnormal. No what separated her was merely that the abnormal was visible. It was on the outside.
Because if we look inside ourselves, aren’t we all abnormal? Don’t we all have handicaps and weaknesses? Don’t we all fall short and fail and break with what we are expected to be? Isn’t it just that most of us are able to hide our abnormal because our abnormal is on the inside rather than the outside?
I wish I had a conclusion here to end with. I wish I had a grand statement of hope expressing how as a culture as a whole and how as individuals we can change this attitude and how we can come to more closely bring under our wing all people — those with their broken on the outside and those of us with it on the inside. But right now I don’t have any solutions. Just an observation from my own broken heart.
I’m not proud that I saw her and thought her different. I like to think I’m more evolved than that. But apparently I’m not.