“Man, I can’t stop eating this Nerd candy. Its like crack,” my friend admitted saying in the company of a recovering crack addict. She was telling me this story about her past insensitive and untimely remark to relate to me in my embarrassment following a similar conversational mishap I had from just a few days before.
“’Cool!’ was my idiotic response”, I confessed to my friend. “What was I thinking?” I asked her rhetorically as I relayed the details from my recent interaction. “I just can’t believe ‘cool’ was all I could say when l learned that my new acquaintances at the park knew each other through their shared residence at a women’s shelter. I find nothing about domestic violence or homelessness to be cool, but somehow the awkwardness of the conversation reversed my maturity level back a few decades. The disparities in our life made me squirmy and uneasy like I remembered feeling when I was fifteen years old at the school dance. I wanted to back track and start all over or bail altogether as the thought of excusing myself for an emergency of some sort came to mind. However, by this time, my new friend had already moved forward without hesitation, to articulate the various blessing she had received at the shelter and the lessons God had been teaching her through it all. Sadly, I was so embarrassed and self-absorbed that I didn’t listen very well to the rest of her story.
I left that day at the park discouraged by my response and what it revealed about my lack of interaction with people in vastly different life circumstances than my own. Even just a moment of self-reflection reveals that my life circles are small. The majority of my group of friends not only looks like me (White, Anglo Saxons in their 30’s), but also has similar life-styles and routines. Generally speaking, we share the same religion, political views, educational background, socioeconomic status, and parenting styles. In many ways, our shared circumstances have created opportunities to spend time together and get to know each other on deep levels. I have been challenged and shaped by my friendships in countless ways. We eat meals together and know each other’s stories. I often wonder about what blind spots we have though because of our commonalities. We are mostly iPhone users, SUV drivers, coffee drinkers, and local food aficionados with Facebook accounts, gym memberships, and Southwest Airlines credit cards. We can’t imagine life before Amazon, craft beer, and the fast-forward button on our TV remotes.
No wonder I fumbled over my words at the park the other day. My current path doesn’t naturally cross with women living in shelters or kids that frequently miss meals or women that bathe in bathroom sinks at the public library. This past week I have met people from all of these situations and it is changing me. While I’ve read news articles about the problem of domestic violence and have been moved by documentaries about the disenfranchised on Netflix, I haven’t actually met the people behind the statistics who live in shelters and worry about their children getting adequate nutrition.
I’m beginning to see the disparity in my city, my privilege, my ignorance, and my need for heterogeneity. I love the people in my life circle. I just want to expand and connect these circles somehow. All I know is that it is going to require a lot more awkward conversations to get there.