Sunday, December 4, 2011

Some thoughts on a very good Sunday

Two posts ago I talked about religion. The next day I visited a Unitarian Universalist church, and enjoyed the people and the message very much. Today was my third visit, and my first time hearing their minister speak. She was a little fidgety, which drove me nuts - she kept messing with her mike, her necklaces, her hair...I wanted to tie her hands behind her back. But...she was an excellent speaker. Her sermon had me thinking the whole time, which is the point of a sermon, right?
"Half the fun of travel is the esthetic of lostness." Ray Bradbury
She began her sermon with this quote. The gist was, when you travel in a place where you are foreign - whether you don't speak the language, or the customs are different, or even just stepping out of your comfort zone - you are reminded of the very hugeness of humanity, and your own smallness in the midst of that humanity. It reminds you that you are only one of many, and this being "lost" is a reminder that you are not the center of the universe. She asserted that if people were to travel and become "lost" more often, perhaps there would be less war, because while when we are "lost" we are reminded of how very different we all are, we are also reminded of how we are all the same in very essential ways.
I haven't traveled much. I like to think I would be a good traveler - I respect most people and their cultures, I like to make friends, and I am pretty flexible. I would like to travel more than I have. I began to think, though, about how very lost I feel in a crowd. Most people who know me think of me as a very gregarious, outgoing person. The word "shy" is a word almost nobody would connect with me, but that is only because those people probably met me when I knew someone else in the room. If there is another person around with whom I feel comfortable, I can relax and talk to an entire room of strangers, and walk out friends with most of them. I'm not saying I'm the coolest, nicest person on earth - but I am ridiculously friendly, and I'm interested in what you think. That being said, if I don't know anyone else, or if I know half the room, but not well enough to be comfortable, I will shrink into a corner, blush a lot, and not talk to a soul. I found myself doing this very thing last Sunday - my friend A went with me to church the first week, and this week, and both weeks I felt very comfortable, went up to people and talked to them, and enjoyed myself very much. Last week, however, I didn't know anyone there, and after a few minutes of awkward half-smiles at perfect strangers, I turned around under the ruse of examining the row of bookshelves in the room. Thank goodness for bookshelves. How many times have I been saved from dying away from embarrassment by the ability to peruse somone's bookshelves. And oftentimes, a shared interest will spark a conversation, which kills the reason I was poring over the shelves so intently in the first place.
Anyway, I never relaxed. I said hello and goodbye to a few people, and nobody was rude to me, but I was ready to leave right away last week. I felt "lost" in a room full of people who spoke the same language and had the same sort of culture. This is such a common feeling for me, and I wonder if it's this very thing that has perpetuated in me a very liberal mindset. I very rarely feel myself the center of the universe, because my own shyness makes me so very aware of the existence of the vast rest of humanity.
She also remarked upon the fact that criticizing someone else's accent is another way of making ourselves feel superior, and making the other person feel lost, and so I suppose I have to stop constantly correcting my brother-in-law's grammar. Which will, of course take all the fun out of our interactions.

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