The pot and the kettle: or, Ubi Caritas


It has been quite a while since I’ve lived in a place where I daily feel the fact that I belong to a cultural minority. That has changed. Now when I drive along the freeway I see on the one hand a plethora of bumper stickers of the “Dog is my co-pilot” and “My karma ran over your dogma” variety, and on the other billboards with a Protestant fundamentalist flavor.

When we lived in LA, it seemed like we blended in pretty well, and on seeing me and my family, nobody turned a hair. But on coming here I saw people take in my gaggle of children and me in one glance and look away, their decision about us already made.

This didn’t sadden me. It irritated me, no end.

My mind kept rolling over familiar defensive retorts. Why do you judge me when you don’t even know me? Why do you assume that you know what I think and believe? Do you think we decided how to grow and raise our family without careful thought, blood, sweat, and tears? Why do you claim to espouse fairness and tolerance yet reject me and my family?

In response, a nagging feeling hovered in the back of my mind, which resolved itself at last into a question: Are you sure you never do the same thing to others yourself?

And the answer is, well . . sometimes, yes, I do.

A week or so ago I told my mother-in-law that we were going to a workshop at a mega church. She told me that we might expect people there to try vigorously to convert us. “But don’t worry about it,” she said. “Just be kindly, open, and loving.”

Her words struck me like a mini lightning-bolt. One should always be kindly, open, and loving, of course – sadly however, my face doesn’t generally radiate kindliness; it usually radiates preoccupation and tension.

I made the decision to follow her advice, but with everyone I meet – to not waste one second worrying about whether they might judge me, but to concentrate on being kindly, open, and loving.

Do you know what has happened? Everyone I meet is beautiful! I look at them until we make eye contact, and smile at them. Sometimes, people look surprised, but always, they smile back, and each smile reveals a unique personality that is usually hidden behind the work-a-day routine.

When I was little, and a squabble broke out among my siblings, one of the older kids would look sanctimoniously to heaven and sweetly intone, “Uuuubi caritaaaaas, est veraaaaa, est veraaaaaa, Deus tibi est, Deus tibi est” – Where true charity is, there is God. 

A tiny bit of charity goes a long way. It is revolutionary; it’s divine.

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