“Are you Catholic?” The straightforward question from the stranger in the row behind me at church caught me off guard, but I smiled as I turned to answer him. “You have a lace thing on your head and Catholics wear them.”
I struggled to know how to answer him as I knew that he was simply trying to figure out why I obviously did not belong where I was. His question formatted in a different way than many others before one, was one that I have faced pretty much all my life. Yes, it is one I expect will happen. Generally the odd comments come from children who have not learned social skills yet or the people that simply state what they have on their mind. I used to want to answer sarcastically, or could come up with something very pious.
In their mind, there is something here that does not belong. I am in a Baptist church. I don’t fit in. As I generally sit alone in a pew, engaged in my thoughts, I thought about what I could have answered, than how I did.
The truth is, I have never fit into any box that people have tried to put me in. Thankfully, I hope I never do.
I grew up among Mennonites, and loved it, but as an imaginative tomboy of a girl, I didn’t quite meet the standards given to me. I read too much fiction, made up stories, loved playing alone, and my dresses were not always neat or tidy, and my hair even less so.
Among other groups, I tried to do what I could, polite, kind, but things didn’t always make sense in my mind as far as belief systems.
I had to ask myself, “Who am I?” and “Why am I doing things to meet others standards instead of living how I believe is right?”
I am a conundrum to many people, including the man in the pew behind me today. He may have walked away today thinking he found the answer, thinking I was a Mennonite girl that somehow was there on accident. But in reality, in his eagerness to place me in a box, he missed out. He didn’t learn anything about me or who I am as a person.
Many people do that with others we meet. We place them in a box, and put a label on it. We struggle to allow them outside of that box. We see mistakes they make, the way they dress, the words they say, and we assume they are something associated with that.
What if we forgot the boxes and labels we place on people, and get to know them without trying to place them in a box, I think we would discover a whole new way of living.
I totally get wanting to be with people of similar lifestyles, belief systems and culture. But for me, when I get outside of that, I learn so much more.
I don’t want to be stuck in the box that someone puts me in. I don’t want to place people around me in boxes.
Sometimes we place ourselves in a box as well, close the lid up and wait to be discovered. We are angry when others don’t open it to find out who we are, and instead read the label we wrote in fury on the side. Sometimes the angry letters scare people off from opening up the box and discovering the real you. Then there are other boxes that place themselves high on a shelf, refusing to allow themselves to be opened. Fear stops them, or belief that we are of no value to others or fear of being contaminated by others.
Whatever box we are in, whether someone put us there or we did it to ourselves, let us open up the boxes of our hearts and allow other in.
Let’s not try to define someone by what their appearance gives us, but instead learn to know what is behind that exterior, words and the public persona.
No, I am not any of the labels that people love to place on me. In fact, most of the people that really know me are surprised when they dig into what is beneath the exterior.
The curious gentleman and his companion walked away today thinking they had me figured out. In truth, they tried to put me in a box, and one where I didn’t belong.
Thankfully, I am really good at jumping out of boxes, and making something else out of them.
I would encourage you, the next person you see that you think from their exterior, you got them all figured out, stop yourself. Ask yourself what you can learn from not putting them in a box, instead of assuming you know everything they are experiencing.