Religious Tolerance

You sneeze: what do people say to you?

It’s the holiday season: what do people say to you?

It’s your birthday: what do people say to you?

Something terrible has happened to you: what do people say to you?

A loved one has passed on: what do people say to you?

Something great might happen: what do people say to you?

All of these have one really strikingly gorgeous thing in common: well-wishing. Now, the specifics may not be the same, but the idea behind it very much is. And yet, we have some issues accepting it, don’t we?

If someone came up to you and blessed you because you sneezed (and no, it doesn’t matter if it’s in German), you’d say thank you. It wouldn’t matter if you believed that God was going to bless you, or if you were atheist-you’d just say thank you. Or at least you should, becuase that’s just good manners.

If you were going into the hospital, you’d want to come out of it again, right? And you’d want comfort if a loved one or friend died, right?

You’d want to celebrate when good things happen, take solace in community when bad things occur. That’s just human nature-right?

My point here is that if I were Muslim or Christian or Jewish or Atheist or Pagan or Buddhist or what-have-you, the concept of well-wishing is universal. I did a post during Ramadan (last year?!) about how much I learned about the graciousness of the Muslim Americans that I met. I have a Jewish friend who is the happiest, most accepting person I may ever know. I have a Catholic friend with a heart of gold, who accepts me for my differences and loves me just the same. I have very Christian friends who are a delight to be around-and allow me to explore who I am while they do the same, and even some who give me their time and share their food with me (I’m always down with food and coffee dates-you know, when my schedule permits).  I have atheist and agnostic friends who respect my choice to believe in something bigger than myself. I have pagan friends who delight in my successes, lift me up in my sorrows and support me throughout. And I know that’s just my story. I get that.

But the larger picture is what I’m getting at. 

Tolerance is something that doesn’t seem to be big around my country these days. I see a collective out and about, trying to make sure everyone knows they are valid and matter and valued-and I love that. I try to do so as well, because that’s what we all need. In the end, it doesn’t matter, it shouldn’t matter, if someone is wishing you well-becuase it means they care enough to say something nice to you.

Look, I don’t expect everyone to know that next week is Ostara, the celebration of the Spring Equinox, a time of great fertility and happiness. Saint Patrick’s Day is a religious day, but is celebrated by more people than just the ones who honor him as a saint. Lent is happening right now, in preparation for Easter. Purim and Holi are coming up soon as well. Ramadan starts in a couple months. And you thought December was the only packed holiday month!

My point is simple, really, and I feel like it’s almost absurd to have to say it. When someone tells you:

Happy Easter, Happy Ostara, Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Happy Friday, Blessed Purim, Blessed Lent, Blessed Holi, and more, they are not saying “you have to subscribe to my religion”. They are wishing you well. 

And in this day and age, isn’t that something we all need?

A Belated Birthday Wish

I know I can get a little out of hand with the passion and fire. I get it. But today, (I’m so sorry I’m a day late!) I wanted to stop and remind myself of a person to whom I owe so much more than just a portion of my education.¬†Along the way of my compulsory education, I was led gracefully by several wonderful teachers, many of whom I hold in my “If I ever get rich, you’ll be seeing my face once more” pile. But the one person who will always stand out to me had a birthday yesterday and I want to acknowledge her.

It was middle school, the time of unruly changes, temper tantrums and the occasional moment of utterly chaotic nonsense. I’d loved reading and writing since I was in kindergarten and I’d heard the most wonderful things about my future reading teacher. I’d heard she was the sweetest, most caring person on the face of the planet and that she was the kind of teacher who never got angry and smiled all the time. But I hadn’t seen her in person, so I had no idea who to look out for.

I went to a football game once during middle school and it just so happened that I saw a woman in the stands who appeared to me to be glowing, almost-like holy glowing, halos and just in general an aura of light. Her hair was radiant like the sun, she had a huge smile on her face and I knew in an instant that she was an absolute, real life, bona fide angel. I had no idea why, of course, that an angel would be sitting in the stands, freezing at a football game in the middle of nowhere, but I had never been more sure of anything in my life.

Imagine my surprise when the first day of reading the following year she was my teacher!

I remember watching her teach, being completely and utterly swept away by the grace that she embodied. Her heart seemed to overflow with the kind of beauty that can only come from love and it became like a spring of safety for me. I would wait each day to have her for class, knowing that no matter how bad the day had been thus far, it would get better as soon as I stepped foot into her classroom. It would be so without fail all year.

A lot of people seemed to take her for granted, and I never understood that. She’d make sure she went out of her way for you, and you didn’t have to do anything more than just try your hardest. She had a look that was far from angry, but it made everyone pay attention. And there was something about her laugh that settled my soul, as though it were another sign from the heavens that she was in fact an angelic force come to heal all the cracks.

She gave me a book to read outside of class once. I remember being so moved by the words inside the covers that I wrote some dumb middle school letter trying to tell her that I knew I was just one kid but she’d changed my life forever. She was one of the first teachers I shared the things I wrote with, she was one of the first people who saw the darkest, most desperately broken pieces of me and instead of running away, she opened her heart and reached out. Thinking back to that moment, it brings a mist to my eyes.

This woman, who didn’t know me past class, did the exact opposite of everyone else who knew-she offered me love and acceptance at a time when I thought I had absolutely no worth and no value. In short, I credit her, in part, for saving my life and thusly for giving me the opportunity to become the passion driven spitfire I am today.

It’s been a couple years, but these things stand out to me. I had the utmost delight of having her husband teach my government class and my heart grew to be eternally fond of the most jovial, sincere couple in all of history. The way they hold themselves, with dignity and grace, wrapped up in the most perfect forms of selfless love, compassion and hope I’ve ever seen are something I am reminded of and in truth, seek to live up to. I know that in my entire time alive, I’d be hard pressed to find someone I’ve known who better defines what it is to be a human being. I am beyond blessed to have known them, and to have had the opportunity to learn from them.

I’m still convinced she’s an angel. And I think I may always believe so. I’ve had the delight of seeing her a few times since I graduated and each time my heart recaptures that aura of peace and love. Women like her could change the world. And if I’m lucky enough, if I carry her and her husband in my heart forever, then maybe just maybe, I might have that impact on some young kid too.

So happy belated birthday, Mrs. Reid. I hope it was pleasant, that you smiled plenty and that you have many, many more. I wish you much happiness and many happy returns of the love you so freely give.

With love and thanks,