coffee shop art and othering

Today I’m back in the coffee shop and having a bit of a harder time than normal blocking out the background noise and conversation. I am, however, loving their new art display this month and will have to meander the room a bit more later and read the stories with each of the pictures. The entire display is made up of picture of senior individuals or couples. Professional pictures taken of people in the later years that are absolutely stunning. From a quick scan, I recognize at least a handful as former staff and faculty from my undergrad years just down the road. One of my advisors and his wife are even represented. Without being awkward or in people’s way I can only read one of the accompanying stories from where I sit now. Next to me is a picture of a woman I recognize with her husband. From a quick reading I’ve now placed her as the face so often on the other side of the window at the university mail room. Which I associate mostly with happy memories surrounding receiving packages from home (my mom is incredible at sending care packages!) or all the times my friends and I came up with creative ways to prank people through campus mail (haven’t YOU always hoped to receive a well-aged teriyaki chicken foot or a living pansy through the mail?).

But back to the art display. Currently above my head is a smiling picture of this woman and her husband and a few paragraphs about her work at the university, her and her husband’s work in the community (teaching Sunday school, working with Habitat for Humanity, etc.) and notes about their joy in visiting their daughters across the country. In a matter of a few simple paragraphs a glimpse into a full life, well lived and a community built and invested in begins to form. I love this simple glimpse into this couple’s life that lives in the same community as me and whom I would recognize at the store, but know little about.

I love hearing people’s story, but fear I’m rather poor at inviting and encouraging them out. It’s so much easier to live life near people rather than to invite, allow and intentionally remember those around us to as full, complete individuals like ourselves. The concept of “othering” was much discussed along with cultural competency throughout my Master’s program and is one that has been extensively on my mind this past year. Partly as I watch current events unfold from bombings and attacks to the often embarrassing theatrics of our current US election. In that context it seems easy to point out how someone forgot the “other’s” humanity. How a caricature of a person or people group made it perhaps easier to justify killing or even the outrageous statements of politics these day. It’s also easy to quickly to condemn these acts and the underlying assumptions that the victims could be defined by their belonging to a certain group or belief system and that that justified horrific actions.

But what about in my day to day. How often am I maybe not explicitly selfish, but so easily “other” those around me? From the strangers I cross paths with to my friends and acquaintances even to those closest. It’s much too easy, too natural to, for example, view my husband occasionally as this other force that clashes with the ‘correct order’ of things in my life then as a complete person I actually immensely respect and love. In many ways that’s more challenging for me to remember then it is regarding victims of a far off tragedy that I’ve never interacted with.

This is a slightly awkward and entirely incomplete place to end for today, but it’s also a topic I’m very much still sorting and praying through daily. It’s been a consistent theme I’m working through on a personal level in my existing relationships as well as on a larger scale and how it links with my involvement in the world around me and current events.

On that note, I’m over 500 words and actually at nearly 700 for day two! I’m also more then slightly terrified about posting this without reworking it.


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