Seeing Others as Holy Guests in our Hearts, Communities and Homes

Touching across differences of size, age and perspective
Touching across differences of size, age and perspective

“You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that Adonai your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive…” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 16:18–20)

I feel bound right now, bound to hold fast to an ideal of Justice that isn’t just about me and those I know and love. Bound to find a way to see the Other as a guest, a relative, a wounded being whose fate and mine are inextricably bound.

This binding is not restrictive, it is self-imposed and a discipline, I daily remind myself about. When, in our small but complex hamlet, we engage in dialogue and dissent forgetting to be bound by this ideal of Justice we are crippled in our attempts to find resolution. Each one of us is responsible for how we behave and what we say and do in a public arena.

Whether we rent or own a home or whether we find shelter wherever we can (which sometimes means having no shelter and being exposed, confused, hurt and angry). We have to remember that until we see those who are different from us as Holy Guests who may also be wounded or broken, we will not manage to live and work together well.

Finding the balance between our own needs and boundaries and the needs and boundaries of others is a lifelong challenge. When we forget to connect to our higher/deeper ideals and self as we walk, talk, live, work, breathe and love we move towards becoming that which we abhor.

So, in a public way, let me take to task some folks for perhaps loosing sight of something precious. To all those who work in public arenas who have forgotten and who are reading this, I know you are frustrated with local politicians, complex and needy constituents and various advocates for differing positions. You have good reason to be, as do we all, AND it’s important not to lose sight of the end goal, Justice for all.

Polarization is a natural force when there are different people working on a problem from completely alternate or differing positions. The hard part is to recognize that we aren’t actually interested in, nor will it be useful, to create a nuclear reaction. Tearing communities or cells apart involves splitting up or getting “rid” of things. Convenient as it might be to imagine removing from the discussion all those who think, feel and see differently from us, it just won’t ever work.

We cannot shuffle or blast away with angry words in print or in the public domain those we dislike, disagree with or are disgusted by. There is no where left for us to shuffle them.

They live here with us. Often folks without a home will have a pet and this is often viewed as being wasteful or wrong by folks who are housed. For some, owning a pet seems like a luxury..”how can that person ask me for money for their dog food?” I have had a few hard times with loose dogs about town or on the beach (where they destroy habitats for small birds if not on leashes), but not letting a wild thing run wild seems cruel also. This is another example of a complex situation that requires intelligent and caring dialogue and thought.

I love most creatures and want them to be well cared for in their natural habitats or with their human parents.

When you are without shelter a dog can be your only defense against predators. Living on the streets or woods involves interacting with predators (human and others as well). Animals are sensitive to the moods and needs of those who feed and care for them. Even pets, whose owners are less than responsible with them, are still loyal, forgiving and often endlessly willing to try again for love and they will still protect their person from harm by another.

There are many studies indicating the value of having a pet around. There are uses for pets in many therapeutic contexts, which leads to the conclusion that having one around helps folks in more ways than we can see. They are used to combat depression, help people with cancer or terminal illnesses and also as service animals for the visually impaired or otherwise-abled who need assistance. We have a right to impose and advocate for leash laws and restrictions on animals in the public domain so that everyone is safe. We don’t have any moral grounds for denying people the unconditional love that many pets provide.

It is beyond ridiculous and a travesty that we can’t find a home place for the people who need one after all this time. It’s a real pain in all of our behinds, brains and hearts that we also have to figure out what to do with their dogs as well. Unfortunately that is our situation.

If we lived somewhere other than most folks reading this do (meaning you have access to a computer and are literate and have the time and money to spend reading a blog vs. working long hours to stay alive or find food or shelter), then we might have more perspective on poverty and those who don’t have shelter. We live where we do though and perhaps have forgotten to see everyone as precious. We need to remember who we are and what our goals and values are. Even when the people we are working with forget this, we have to take responsibility for our part, our voices and our behavior and continuously push the Justice, Justice button until we get to that place.

I’ve worked in the past with many a young person. One seemingly had no control over abusive behavior and language and got into a lot of trouble as a result. I regularly reminded this person that the only thing we can control is ourselves and our responses and actions. My work with this person involved helping her connect with what she was really feeling, which was usually sadness and then to work from there to find solutions that would enable her not to lash out at the folks near her.

I cannot change what anyone else thinks, feels, believes or does. I can only work to discipline and remind myself, daily and many times a day, that the world I want can only come about when I treat everyone around me with respect, dignity, the benefit of the doubt, and clear and loving communication. I also have to include my family and myself in that recipe and make sure I protect those who are closest to me. It’s not ever easy or mindless and requires a constant effort and it requires PURSUIT. The Torah doesn’t say look for justice or think about it, it says PURSUE it.

Anything less will result in more pain, sadness and confusion. So, let’s remember to pursue and seek out and recognize that which is beautiful, true and precious in those we have the most trouble with. From there, we will make progress that is lasting and real. I honestly believe we will.

~Nicole Barchilon Frank lives  in a lovely and complex hamlet and won an “Optimist Award” from her teacher Mr. Sparm, (yes we used to call him Mr. Sperm, but never to his face) for a paper she wrote about ending world hunger in her sixth grade class about 39 years ago, some things never change.