He was barely 4 with a thatch of jet black hair and just enough of a lisp to be endearing. His grandmother was 74, tiny and white-haired. “Kelly,” she said. “What does ‘old’ look like?” He paused, adjusted his footie pajamas and said, “Stand up.” When she did, he said, “Turn around.” When she did, he said, “Look in the mirror.” Satisfied, with nothing left to say, he returned to play. She marveled at the reality of what they both saw, what they both understood, the way he chose to answer her query.
The truth is that what is perceived as reality is not always so clear, so visible to both parties, so quickly grasped. And yet, as humans, that common ground is essential to continuing to be able to live together in one community and space.
In relentless media cycles and Twitter rants, in spotlight scrutiny, we have systematically dismantled the standards of earlier generations and institutional structures. There is no forgiving historical context, no excuse for the past not meeting current standards. There is a clear rejection of the chance that collective wisdom may offer a hand on the individual’s journey. A vibrant personal strength and identity empowers rejecting a norm. Too often, those who maintain the norm become an enemy, are percieved as somehow ignorant or worse.
Every choice made has consequences. Decisions and choices define self as surely as they display our understandings and perceptions about the world we live in. Having the courage to own both the ever-fledgling self as well as the role within an ever-evolving community means embracing deep and broad perspectives.
It demands being able to articulate the complexity of self clearly and purposefully. That just might mean disposing of self-centered narratives that focus on victimization and suffering. It means realizing that life is hard for everyone; individual stories carry triumph and tragedy. Individuals find clarity and possibility in sharing those narratives.
Communities find a home for those persons and those stories. Centuries ago, that happened among the apostles and their followers. The phenomenon was not confined to Christianity; it transcended ethnicity, religion, politics and kingdoms.
Courage empowers meaningful communication founded on mutual respect and appreciation. Courage allows listening and understanding without defensiveness and perceived threats. In its purest sense, courage enables individuals to listen, to speak, to share, and to choose. All of that is part of the gift of Easter and Pentecost as well as the promise of Catholicism.
There is no doubt that standing up for beliefs, making choices, has consequences. To risk articulating belief or faith in a society and social context skeptical if not overtly hostile requires a new infusion of courage. It requires the sense that each person’s journey is uniquely sacred, and the choices are theirs. And it is undergird by the belief that somehow, God is present in all of it, acknowledged or not. Standing up, looking in the mirror, reveals more than we realize.