Where are you right now?
Maybe you are in a class avoiding the impending lecture. Or maybe you are in a coffee shop enjoying a drink. Are you walking down the street? Through the park? Into the gym? Or away from that same gym promising yourself you will do better tomorrow?
Wherever you are, take a moment and look up. See all of the people around you, whether they are sitting still or walking down the road facing you, just watch them for a moment. What do they look like? What are they wearing?
What baggage are they carrying?
I first encountered Claire Porter at a LinkedIn class in Charleston, shortly after launching this project, and got the opportunity to connect with her over a hot coffee on the coldest Martin Luther King Day I can remember in a decade. Honestly when we first met I didn't put much thought into who she was. She was another person, a human being worthy of dignity and respect, that much was true, but I didn't think about her story. I didn't judge her, but I didn't understand her either.
The odd part is that we all do this to people as we pass them in our daily lives, look at them but not really see them. We apply our labels, our box definitions, to them. The bad kids become the ones we steer our children away from, watch in our peripherals and, maybe, clutch our keys a little tighter around. The Christian is the one we walk on eggshells around because we want to avoid judgement. There's the sweetheart, who is so kind but can't take the tough stuff, the nerd, who we consider adorably shy and awkward, the person who voted opposite of us, who is clearly wrong and also, probably, stupid.
We label people all day long from what we look at, but how often do we stop and try to see them? What might we find if we did?
Claire and I were both identified as "problem children." You know the ones. These are the kids you were told to stay away from, the ones parents judge, the ones that are wrestling with a lot, but you just never asked them. As we sit here you would probably never notice. Claire has a warm and friendly smile, a kinetic charm that draws you in, dressed like a professional with a touch of casual flair. I'm in a beanie and hoodie, looking like I just might be planning to hold up a 7-11. Two people, seemingly opposites, yet with such a common point in our pasts.
We sp coffee, share stories, open the door to the smiles and cries I always talk about, the currency of humans in a world where nothing is certain save love. Her cries, her smiles, are different from mine, we are different souls walking different paths, sometimes seeing the same landmarks in our journeys, but from different perspectives. As she talks, I can feel my heart go out to her, though our stories are different. She sums it up best as we share; we all have our own bullshit.
I joke that i want to make name tags for all of humanity, "Hi, my name is _____ and I have bullshit I deal with." We both laugh, but we also have that look like this should happen.
We talk about a world where it's so much easier to just label and move on. it happened to both of us at some point in our lives. It happens to all of us eventually. Emotions and pain, the hurt we suffer, all of that is the messy part of loving one another. It's not clean and easy, but it is there, that we see love. Not the perception of others, the judgements, that are actually the bad influence on a culture so obsessed with immediate gratification and even quicker problem solving.
Claire is a phenomenal person, she laughs and smiles through difficult conversations, her heart is strong. We talk about family, about relationships and trying to make the world just a little better from here to there. Our stories, our philosophies, coalesce around the idea that we, as human beings, need to take responsibility for each other, to love others as we love ourselves. Sound familiar? If it doesn't, let it start now.
She tells me about her Martin Luther King Day pizza party, and becomes one of my favorite parents of all time. I've long lamented that special days seem to be more of an occasion to relax than to remember, how we so often forget to pull the reason for the occasion from the closet because it might make the barbecue a little less fun. Claire takes time with her family and eats pizza, while talking about the late,m definitively great, Dr. King. I start this day by reading the "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" and dedicating myself to principles as a citizen of humanity, so this rings loudly to me.
It's not because we agree on the figure and his impact. It's the investment that impresses me. Our lives are so easy to get caught up in, the world often becomes a passing thought. Watching Claire talk about something in such a matter of fact way, while her eyes reflect the passion for it, shows a parent who understands the job of a parent, to teach their children to love and make them ready for the world as a whole. I can honestly say I wish my mother had been more like Claire.
Claire and I might look like opposites, but that's just looking. Spending time with her has helped remind me to see, to care and to understand others. Some days it seems easier to look at the world as though it ends right where my reach does. Still, it never really changes, there is a world beyond my reach, I am just choosing what to look at. I feel lighter walking away from our meeting, into the cold day, lighter and incredibly blessed. I could have just looked at Claire in a class and never seen her. That would have been a cry, and now it's a smile instead.
Take a look up from your screen. Who's around you? Do you see them?
Connecting is simple.
Just walk up and say "Hi, my name is _____." Then give them a chance to be seen by you.
I think you'll like it.
Favorite Dinosaur: Triceratops
Why: Their head looks weird and she likes that. They seem to keep to themselves but they will fight back when they have to. Claire made one out of clay in elementary school, it's her proudest art moment.