Upon reflection, I think that there’s always a bit of nervousness when we’re about to meet a bunch of new people for the first time. There’s some posturing on our part surely; standing a bit taller, straightening that wrinkle in our shirt, sucking in the gut a bit… and no doubt, there’s some sizing up of the other that tends to happen too; some measuring with the ‘measuring sticks’ of: our preconceptions, and of our misconceptions, of our pasts, and of our biases. We put on our colored-glasses, tinted by the lens of our life experiences and through those we stare out at the world around us and at our brothers and sisters. And then there’s the first exchange, usually something simple, banal even, something cursory like the weather, or traffic, or humor – small talk… the dreaded small talk. And I have never been good at, nor a fan of, small talk. Why? Because I find it in all cases unnecessary, in some cases uninteresting and in a minority of cases, disingenuous. If you really think about it honestly, small talk is usually what we share with someone when we aren’t sharing deeply enough. We’re filling in ‘dead air’. We’re ‘killing time’. We’re ‘being polite’. We might instead be saying something meaningful; offering a prayer, a blessing, a compliment a word of encouragement or thanksgiving, but instead we assume, because of the prodding of ‘polite society’ that those topics are too personal, too deep, not anyone’s business, not anyone’s care. That’s our stuff. That’s my stuff. Mine, mine, mine.
But we’re made for more than that.
Jesus says we exist for two purposes (Mt 22:37-40) to “Love God” with everything we’ve got and to “Love our Neighbor” as much as we do ourselves. That’s it. Simple. To love our neighbor, not just inform our neighbor about our feelings over inclement weather. To love him or her, not just tell him or her how exhausting the 405 was today.
How can we “love” our neighbor? By being honest with them. By giving our ‘walls’ the day off. By letting our guard down. By opening ourselves up to truly share.
This is what I experienced at St. Margaret Mary’s in Lomita, CA during an annual Christmas party for members of the community with special needs. Yes I was meeting a bunch of new people, but this was different. No small talk! Instead, No-holds-barred, 100%-from-the-heart, unadulterated love. L.O.V.E.
Exhibit A: check out my buddy Ronnie (pictured below):
Now that's L.O.V.E.!
I met Ronnie less than 5 minutes before I took that picture. Ronnie is 60 years old – but he has the heart and soul of a child (Mt 18:3). We were seconds into our knowing each other and he already had his arm around me - stabilizing his difficult gait as I helped him to a chair in the hall. Just steps into our friendship and I was already hearing deeply about him; his life (Lomita native since the late 50s), his family (sister works for TSA at LAX), his passions (iced tea and airplanes!). These items weren’t rattled off as ‘facts’ but shared in a sincere desire to connect with me on those things that were in his heart. Humbling.
Meeting and spending the day helping Ronnie, and Stephanie and Jeffrey and Brian and Carlos and many other beautiful souls of all ages, races, and capabilities was awesome – in the real sense of the word: it was something that produced in me a sense of 'awe'.
It was a privilege. A distinct honor.
And it was, above all, a great Grace from God showing me, once again, in the interactions with these brothers and sisters, that genuine love that he is calling me each day to emulate.