Us and Them

Posted: June 28, 2010 in people
Tags: , , , ,

Recently, on a Thursday afternoon, I stopped by the farmer’s market near my work.  It’s on Center Street, between Third Ave. and Church Street in Chula Vista, California. A soft, cooling afternoon breeze was coming in off the San Diego bay.

Ray’s Shoe Repair is here. A red neon sign says “Nails” at the place on the corner.  Fat, short lemon trees and bins of lemons are painted on the side of the wall between the two.  The First Southern Baptist Church of Chula Vista sits at the far corner. Smooth, white Greek pillars pose in front of red brick facing.

As I crossed Third and approached the farmer’s market, walking with a couple of friends, the famers market gently emanated that one-day-outdoor event feel, a kind of  pseudo-gypsy mana,  a small, Euro-market ambience with canopies covering fresh fruit, flowers in plastic cans and hand-crafted jewelry. It was a temporary, civic improvement to the area.  

The hand-written signs (black marker on cardboard) behind the fresh produce proclaimed proudly,   “Grown in Carlsbad.”  Carlsbad is a beach resort city north of San Diego, known for expensive homes and its eastern edge of commercial flower fields. There aren’t so many cardboard signs there.

I did what we all do at the produce market; I picked carefully, rejecting the fruit and vegetables with cuts and scars and culling the ripe, unbattered pieces from the bins. I picked out some nice white squash and some fat, ripe tomatoes.

At the end of the produce stands was the food court. The “Indian Fusion” cuisine caught my attention. The owner was giving away samples, yogurt dips on Indian bread and hot and spicy chicken. It was all a curious and fascinating blend of Indian, Afghani and Chinese food.  It was exotic, tasty, spicy, and I found myself suddenly longing for a large cold Coke – fusion.  

It’s somewhat exciting, really, to meet people selling Indian fusion food, to dialogue, to eat experimentally. On Center Street there are opportunities.

I brought my veggies and went home thinking about culling. We all do it. We cull Main Street and Church Street for the best. And we reject the worst, or what we think of as the worst. It’s normal; it can get weird.

I ran into a guy the other day who was doing some serious culling. He said to me, “The country is going downhill,” he proclaimed to me. “The Muslims are building mosques all over the place.”

“Really? “ I said.

“Yes,” he said. “They hate us. They are trying to kill us.”

I paused. These kinds of conversations require an occasional pause.

“Have you even read the United States Constitution?” I asked.

He looked up at me from his bench.

“It seems to me,” I said, “That there is something in there about the free exercise of religion.”

He sputtered, but I didn’t let him get up a head of verbal steam again.

“Do you remember what Jesus said about people who we think are our enemies?” I asked him smiling.

“Oh, you mean that we are supposed to…”

I went for his spiritual throat with another smile. “I think he mentioned something about loving them.”

I reached down to his bench, shook his hand, wished him a good day and walked off. He was still frothing a bit, but I felt that at least I had taken the moment to throw a brick under his mental front tire. We were on Fifth Ave and E Street, not far from Center and Church. If you go down Fifth and take a left on G you run over to Third Ave and from there you can walk to Center.  It’s not that hard to get to Center Street.

There are actually a million ways to get to where we want to go. One basic way is to say what we are against; the other is to say what we are for.

It’s okay to say what we are against, but I’m for saying more of what we are for. I’m pretty burned out on the narrow, negative, judgmental verbal ordnance that gets launched as conventional wisdom in the nail painting shops, churches and internet chat sessions just off Main Street in downtown America. There is a lot of such railing in America, liberals railing against conservatives, Republicans railing against Democrats, the poor railing against the rich, the Christians railing against the gays, Muslims railing aginst Christians and back and forth, stereotypes and overgeneralizations galore.

I suppose it’s  okay to cull your fruit, that’s what we do everywhere, and to it’s okay to  say whatever you think. Well, we all will no matter what anyone else says.  But the fruit we like isn’t necessarily the best fruit, and the fruit we don’t take home somebody else probably will. And really,  does the rind and surface color we judge  tell all. I’ve picked fruit that looked good in the store and found it rotten at home – and church.

In the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to make the aquaintance of some Muslims. Some of them have been brilliantly educated, enlightened and more than accepting of me and my differing beliefs. And, I have had the opportunity to make friends with some brave young women who are gay. I’ve listen to their stories, and I’ve felt their pain. And, I have made friends with friends who are not homed, and some who don’t want to be. 

I have friends who don’t know what they think, but that they are sure they don’t think what they have been told to think. I have friends who are stoned drunk most of the time but who believe more deeply in God that some people who go to Church Street every Sunday.

I have friends in South Africa, in Brazil, in England and in America.  Many of them think differently than I do. That is why I like to go see them. But often I find that they think the same as I do. I like that too.  I’m interested in how we see things the same. There is a lot there.

And, I’m for getting out on the street here at home more, more farmer’s markets, more locally grown foods, more relationships with local growers, and locally owned eateries, less Von’s and Albertson’s. They are great stores, but the chance to mix, on the street, to discover Indian fusion food, to meet someone outside of your comfort zone – it’s appealing.

And I’m for listening more. And I’m for feeling more. I’m good and sick of people who can’t feel, who won’t feel what they feel and who won’t let themselves feel what other people who are not like them feel, who refuse to feel other people’s disasters. It is not enough simply not to attack.   I like W. H. Auden’s poem, Musee des Beaux Arts.

             About suffering they were never wrong,

            The Old Masters: how well, they understood

            Its human position; how it takes place

            While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along …

 It’s not new that we don’t identify with other people’s joy and pain. Auden makes his insight come alive with the infusion of an artistic allusion.

              In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away from

              Quite leisurely from the disaster …

              A boy falling out of the sky.

It is true; we all sail blissfully on; we plough our fields; we cull or vegetable, while Icarus falls unnoticed out of the sky. But, I wonder, if we were looking around more, might we not notice such things, and choose to go to the rescue, of  foreign legs disappearing into distant seas?

I’ll say it straight up. I think that it would be best if we were more in touch with people who are different than we are, and if we made more effort to understand their flights and their disasters.

I think we should replace blame with understanding and that we should substitute forgiveness for judgment. Life isn’t simply us and them, it’s more  just  — us.

You can shop where, you want – it’s a free country – and you can cull your fruit as you like, but this much is true: The fruit you select isn’t necessarily better than the battered pieces you reject.

Comments
  1. Lillie says:

    I know this was our sermon on Sunday. As I was reading your writing, I was spellbound and wanted more to read. I thought you should write more and have this published in a book to help others understand our purpose in life in knowing how to make friends and accept people who are different from us. Like the title says “Us and Them” makes me think is should be We the people. You are a great author and I like what you have to say!

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