Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weirdo Magnet

I used to call my husband, Steve, a "weirdo magnet." If a homeless person stepped onto the bus, he would strike up a conversation with Stephen. If we sat down in a Tim Hortons, someone with odd tics and a tendency to stare would sit beside us and - again - strike up a conversation. These things really happened.

And Steve didn't mind them in the least. Meanwhile, I would be plotting courteous ways to end the interaction. "Welp. Time to pick up the thing," I would say while looking at Steve meaningfully.

Feeling sorry for a homeless man whom he passed every day, but not wanting to give money that might go to drugs or alcohol, Steve started giving the fellow a piece of fruit from his lunch. Eventually, he learned the man's name: Peter. And that Peter preferred softer food as his teeth were in bad shape. So Steve started making an extra sandwich every morning and bringing it for Peter.

I've known other people who give panhandlers breakfast bars, but I've never known one of them to learn the street person's name.

But it's not really about weirdos. It's something about Stephen.

When we lived in Alabama, Steve got to know one of the tellers at our small bank. She and I were pregnant at the same time, so he shared my stories with her, and hers with me until, finally, she and I connected and became friends. I went to her house, and she and her husband came to our house for dinner.

He got to know one of the servers at our local coffee shop well enough that she chatted with him about her narcolepsy and need for Ritalin. He knows the office custodial staff by first name. He knows people well enough to know that one's child committed suicide, or another's son is disabled.

How many people do you know who get to know "acquaintances" that well?

What I think is that, while the rest of us avert our gaze or suddenly become engrossed in our work, Steve actually sees these people, sees them as individuals, as worthy of his attention and time. It is a gift, a reflection of God in him, that he accepts people without ... I'm having a hard time finding the word. I was going to say, "without judgment," but that isn't true because he is an astute observer of human nature.

It's more that he doesn't consider himself better - or more worthy - than others. People respond to that.

This afternoon, I read Brene Brown's blog about "basic dignity." In it, she writes,
When we treat people as objects, we dehumanize them. We do something really terrible to their souls and to our own.

Martin Buber, an Austrian-born philosopher, wrote about the differences between an "I-it" relationship and an "I-you" relationship. An "I-it" relationship is basically what we create when we are in transactions with people whom we treat like objects - people who are simply there to serve us or complete a task.

I-you relationships are characterized by human connection and empathy.
That describes Stephen's relationships.

There is a verse in the Bible that reads, "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

I suspect that it's pretty hard to entertain angels if you don't even see them. Or if, like me, you're busy seeing them as weirdos.


  1. Brian said

    Is the word you're looking for "readily" or "freely"?

    Anyways, nice! great story, which I never nknew about.

    I could easily make an insult right now about how Steve takes enough time to know acquaintances' childs' disabilities/problems, yet doesn't bother to tell his own child about them; but I won't because he would, if he thought I would take the time to listen.

  2. Wynn Anne, a beautiful and inspiring post. I do hope you realize how very lucky you are to have such an incredible husband :)

  3. Yup, I'm a lucky woman. It's my mantra whenever I'm in the passenger seat and he's driving like a maniac. :-)


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