As a mom, I can appreciate the things that small town America taught me. Like respect for fellow human beings…the common courtesy and kindness of a smile or a “hello” from a passerby…small talk with strangers in the grocery store checkout lines…the freedom to be yourself and to let others do likewise. These are the values I want to instill in my kids.
For 12 years I have lived in a larger town that has all the things I once wished for. Only now, I am invisible. This town that is demographically Christian has a curious twist. People don’t see each other. You’d think I’d be use to it by now, but to be honest, it hurts a little. I suppose for many people this is commonplace. They’ve grown up around this sort of apathy and are actually uncomfortable with friendly affirmations from strangers. I guess it’s a cultural thing. I want what I’m used to, and they want what they’re used to.
But this small town girl feels compelled to speak out. Just once, and only on this little blog. To advocate for love. Not in a high-horse, pointy-finger-shaking way…just to share what little messages of acceptance and affirmation have done for me. And what lacking them has done too.
SMALL TOWN SCENARIO: I’m in a restaurant with the whole family. My kids are exceptionally well behaved today. The grandmotherly woman at the next table chats with my kids, and even trades her mixed berry jam for my son’s apple butter when he expresses his adamant disapproval of it. We are recognized. We are affirmed. And we leave feeling a little more joyful than when we entered.
MY-TOWN SCENARIO: I’m in the kids school today to pick them up. In the hallway, I pass women whom I have seen dozens of times over the years. It’s a private school, so many of the moms are – shall we say – in different social circles than I? I’m just an ordinary mom. If I am measured by my bank account (especially against theirs), I’ll come up seriously short. In the halls of this Christian school, I find no acknowledgement, no hello…no eye contact. The same is true in the grocery store, at the gas station, and yes – even in many churches. I am insignificant. I am invisible. I leave feeling a little less valued and a little bit sadder than when I entered.
Is it just me, or does that seem unnatural?
I’ve read that children begin at a young age looking into the faces of others to see how their value is reflected. They decide, based on the sum total of their experiences, what they are worth. As adults, we should know better. But I can’t help wondering how much of that is still in us somewhere. In my head, I know my worth is not determined by other humans, but sometimes my heart forgets. Sometimes my heart still hopes that I matter to others, even if it’s just enough to be visible. Am I the only one?
How many people in our world have limited their own accomplishments and suppressed their own potential because they believe the slow, quiet, steady, covert lies they have been fed by this sort of apathy? How many have decided that society has spoken…that the verdict of the majority is that they don’t matter? I often wonder how empty our prisons would be and how full our universities would be if we all just sought out ways to affirm each other. I am certain if we tried, we would see it’s just as easy to find the good in people as it is to see the not-so-good! What’s the worst that could happen if we extend small bits of kindness? What are we afraid of? Apathy is contagious, but so is LOVE!
So what is our role in all of this? For myself, my prayer is that I learn to see others the way I’d like them to see me; as valuable. In whatever capacity – be it large or small – I have an opportunity to affirm someone today, I hope I am wise enough to do it. To listen attentively while my cashier tells me about her nine cats -even though I’m late for something. To allow the tan minivan to cut me off in traffic without any horn honkage. To hold the door open for someone who has their hands full. To say THANK YOU to my mother-in-law for her unsolicited advice on apple pie crust. *gulp*
Disconnectedness isn’t working. So why not try something else?
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