Stranger in Our Midst…

I was laser focused on cleaning my filthy windshield when all of a sudden my zen moment was abruptly interrupted: “Great rig you got there!” I quickly turned my body as if I had just been struck by the first blow and was preparing to defend myself from further assault. The response to my posture was that of a confused and concerned senior woman. Filled immediately with guilt from my reaction to being startled by this friendly stranger, I tried to quickly recover with a smile and a “thank you.” It was all way too little too late.

Unlike the prevalent message today of ‘stranger danger’, I was raised in the “look the person in the eyes, extend your hand and introduce yourself” generation. Of course, I am painfully aware that the world has changed since the Brady Bunch but it does cause me to pause about the impact of each new encounter beginning as potential foe rather that friend.

In multiple places our sacred story offers a compelling perspective on ‘the stranger’. For example, from the Hebrew tradition: “But no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler” (Job 31:32). And from the Christian tradition: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35) and, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:1-2). This perspective on the stranger is well summarized by Br. Luke Ditewig SSJE: “Experiencing one more stranger as friend expands our vision of humanity and of God.”

Coming from a different contextual experience, Will Guidara in his wonderful book Unreasonable Hospitality: The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect offers this: “When you work in hospitality—and I believe that whatever you do for a living, you can choose to be in the hospitality business—you have the privilege of joining people as they celebrate the most joyful moments in their lives and the chance to offer them a brief moment of consolation and relief in the midst of their most difficult ones. Most important, we have an opportunity—a responsibility—to make magic in a world that desperately needs more of it.”

There is no question that the world these days, magnified by 24 hour news, often feels like a very scary place. There is genuine wisdom in living in a place of alertness rather than naivety. Yet frankly, there is a lot of ugliness that undergirds taking ‘the stranger’ and those we don’t know as foe. It is the fuel for ‘othering’ —perceiving someone as different, alien, inferior.

However, as someone fortunate to have done and who continues to do a significant amount of travel, the vast majority of the time my encounter with the stranger, as well as my experience of being the stranger, is extremely positive. The lion’s share of folks are good humans, more than happy to help or just share a friendly tale.

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.

– Naomi Shihab Nye, from “The Red Brocade”

2 thoughts on “Stranger in Our Midst…”

  1. Larry Sharpton

    I especially love the quote from the Arab proverb. Native spirituality includes many stories and teachings with the same message. Mitakuwe Owasin, Bishop Pryor.

  2. Virginia Hillhouse

    Thanks for reminding us that some strangers do want to help. I will never forget being lost in Nurenberg, Germany and asking a woman waiting for a bus directions to wherever we were going. She not only helped us verbally, she left her post to walk us to our destination.

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