I am humbled at the thought that I am temporarily here on earth. I am humbled to know that creation will continue after me, just as it did before me. 80 years, give or take a few, seems a long time. Indeed, though a lifetime it is, it is but a lifetime surrounded by, intertwined with, and born of so many other lifetimes.
The wider story of lifetimes is of the greatest importance. That is the story of community. For too long do we dwell on ourselves and attempt to see the world, to see God, through our own perverse desire to be the center. I am not the center. You are the center. That is to say, the “other” is the center. Insofar as the other is otherness the other is the center. Insofar as there is till mystery to be discovered about the other the other is the center toward which we drawn; a mystery.
If I hold an oak leaf in my hand and know only that it is an oak leaf, there is till mystery – still untouched otherness. Again, if I hold an oak leaf in my hand, know that it is an oak leaf and understand the biological and ecological processes, there is still untouched otherness. If, however, I hold that same leaf in my hand, see it as an oak leaf, understand it’s inner machinations, but also recognize the leaf as part of creation, part of a teleological process comprised of the Creator’s signs and symbols, and furthermore realize that the leaf and I share in that same process, then, only then, do I begin to touch otherness. To be sure, I do not understand the otherness, for each part of creation embodies that Great Mystery uniquely, but I begin to touch what was once untouched.
When we look beyond ourselves, reaching and searching for the other, our own lifetime becomes intertwined with the other. We begin to see and understand that we are not islands. We are not devoid of purpose, interaction or unique meaningfulness – neither is the other. We are connected by a search for community, by a drawing-toward being in relationship. As relationships build the other becomes less other and solidarity becomes an implicit state of being. We recognize – more and more – that the other is more similar to us than we could have otherwise known.
Divisiveness and brinkmanship take the place of kinship and community when we keep the other as other. An oak leaf stays simply an oak leaf, lest we recognize the role we share with it – to manifest God’s beauty and creativity. An immigrant mother and child stay as other, as a threat to our comfort, lest we learn their names and their unique manifestations of God’s love and mercy. Seeing each other as other has already caused so much pain in our story – the story of creation. Isn’t it time to reach out and walk with the other?
As I think about all the lives that my life has become intertwined with I am humbled by the grace it is to discover the gift of each person – the unique meaningfulness that each person brings to a community. It seems to me that if we open ourselves to the other the wider community is forever edified and changed by coming to touch the mystery of another person. The life of the other then goes beyond 80 years, becoming a part of the community.
So we have a call to answer. A call to step outside our walls and knock on someone else’s door. Indeed as Pope Francis posits in Gaudete et Exsultate, “perhaps Jesus is already inside us and knocking on the door for us to let him escape from our stale self-centeredness.” If we step outside ourselves and seek the other we open our hearts so that Christ can lead us to deeper relationship with others.