Ever felt like other? I know I have and, I suspect, we all do at some time or another.
A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the topic of otherness. I thought it strange, at first, but it has really grown on me. I learned [formally and experientially] about it during my two-years at School of the Spirit, a Quaker program for spiritual nurture. I felt like other there for the first year. I am certain I was not alone.
The first session, I had a big room all to myself and, at times, the spaciousness felt very lonely. The door didn't lock and the guys staying upstairs passed right by my room. I grew quite fond of "those guys" over the two years, but at first they were just footsteps. I had a dream one of the early nights about staying up, guarding the door and keeping it cracked with the message that my door was not lockable because my heart was not locked.
At the end of the first year, I made a terrible mistake. I knew I'd be leaving again for Philadelphia in a week; my paper was done and only needed a final printing. My childcare was planned and all I really had to do was pack. I noticed airfare was on sale for the following session, so I decided to check dates and prices. I retrieved my school calendar only to discover, much to my utter horror, that the current class was staring precisely at the hour I sat at my computer planning ahead.
My heart sunk, I silently burst into tears. What the %^$# had I been thinking? My reservation was booked for next week and had been for quite some time. My childcare was scheduled for next week and my mother was out of town this week.
I called my spouse in a panic. He responded: "Pack your bags, change your ticket, e-mail me your paper to print and I'll take care of the rest."
I needed someone to command me because I felt very dead at that moment.
You know when you dream that the worst thing possible is happening, well, this felt like it. I did as my husband kindly advised me and prayed like heck that night that I would sleep and not berate myself for being such an idiot. I felt I had lost everything and, only then, was able to ask for God's help.
I slept some, then drove to Dayton to board my re-arranged flight. During multiple delays, I shared a lunch with an older woman in whom I confided. She must've sensed my vulnerability. I called ahead to Philadelphia and said I'd be late, get there when I could and no one needed to call me back. Fortunately the wonderful woman eldering that session ignored me, leaving this message: "Cathy, no matter when you get here, I will be at the airport. Count on it." I really needed to hear that – even from a complete stranger.
When I arrived many hours late, we quickly found each other and embraced long and hard. She whisked me to the retreat center and suggested I unpack, get myself together from the journey, then re-join the group for worship. Wise words. Unpacking, I was amazed that I had only forgotten one item: dental floss. Oh well, I thought. As I opened the top drawer to put away underwear and PJs, awaiting me was an unopened package of floss alone in the drawer. That immediate message was "Trust and I will give you what you need. WOW, I still shudder thinking about it five years later.
I settled, washed my face and anxiously trod the steps wondering if anyone had noticed my extreme tardiness. I was fiercely greeted with bear hug after bear hug, told how much I was missed, the prayers for safe travel that had been spoken and how it just didn't seem the same.
This was God's way of letting me know I did, indeed, belong to this community -- even if I had my doubts. I realized that while my timing was whacked, the timing was at it should have been, otherwise, I would never have known I was missed and valued. Affirmation that I so desperately needed.
What surprised most of my School-of-the-Spirit buddies was how I'd had my paper done a week ahead of what I thought was the deadline. That was the last thing on my mind and heart.
• When have I felt like other?
• What have I learned about making others feel less so?
• When I have felt most alone in community, how have I let God in?
• Willingly or only when I was desperate enough?