I recently attended a Quaker meeting. After a period of silent meditation, people who feel so-moved rise and speak. Some of the speeches are spontaneous. Some are clearly prepared. One of the prepared speeches jarred me. The woman used her most-spiritual-sounding voice. I tend to tune people out when they use that voice. They have a better relationship with the Creator than I do. They appreciate their blessings more than I do. They are just plain all-around better people than I am. They want me to admire and emulate them and I want to be in a different room or even a different universe from them. And usually they have nothing new to say -- just a bunch of platitudes and generalities about goodness and love that bring out my feelings of not-belonging.
She droned on in that irritating voice, and my mind went into high-argument gear. She talked about how she had grown up hearing "there but for the grace of God, go I." Didn't we all? And what does that mean anyway? We see the news and we're supposed to feel lucky because we didn't get murdered. We didn't lose our home to an earthquake, flood, or fire. We're supposed to count our blessings, but every time I do that, I see the list of things I can lose. Any THING I can be grateful for is perishable. Everything on the planet is decaying and dying. Mountains are washing away to the sea. Our loved ones are mortal. That idea we are currently excited about might never catch hold. It's all in flux. And counting your blessings always seems like a trick to keep me seated on a merry-go-round with a faulty motor and an over-active ticket-taker.
The speaker's voice became even more sticky sweet. She recounted how a wise woman once told her to say instead: There go I. Kind of like John Donne. "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." Been there. Heard that.
My mind stopped listening to her. It switched over to thinking about OTHER. I may not have lost my home to the recent disaster. But I have lost my home due to my father moving, or losing my job and having to sell the home I could no longer make payments on. I know what it is to lose a home. I may not have pulled the trigger in the latest murder. But I have wished people out of my life -- everybody from overbearing bosses and angry neighbors to a stranger at the grocery store who criticizes the contents of my cart. I may not have been the suicide bomber, but I have certainly been self-destructive and hurt other people in the process of destroying my dreams. There is no OTHER circumstance I can think of that has no equivalent in my own life.
This kind of thinking makes the world less scary. Been there. Done that. Survived!
There is nobody, no circumstance, no thought-system, that is truly OTHER. For me, this is the source of compassion.
And here I am doing what that speaker did -- trying to share the same idea -- the idea that I didn't want to hear. At least I'm typing and you can't object to my tone of voice. But even you find this message objectionable -- There Go I.