When Differences Make No Difference

By Sunday, November 3, 2013 9 0

The recent government shutdown dramatized how bitter, even rageful, our political differences have become in the U.S.

The costly dysfunction of that says to me that as a nation we are impoverished in what matters — in this case, the basic ability to coexist and function despite our differences.

Cut to my dinner table a week ago tonight. Our housemate Gary, dying of lymphoma, is sitting across from us. We’ve all pretty much forgotten about the broccoli and macaroni and cheese sitting on our plates, because we’re talking. And grieving. We all know this is our last supper together before he moves to a hospice with 24 hour care.

Gary says, “When I first moved in [in February 2011] I was worried because I could see we were pretty different from each other. But it turned out to not make a difference, after all.”

Gary is referring to belonging to a different political party, and voting differently, than Thor and I do.

I nod. “It didn’t make any difference. ” At this point, that feels like an understatement. My dinner napkin is soaked through with tears. So is Thor’s. But we stay at the table, knowing Gary has just days left. These moments feel luminous, as if shot through with God-light.

The God-light truth is that we are all unified as human beings, all vulnerable to death and loss. In light of that overarching truth, political differences become trivial, like kids on a beach quibbling over a sandcastle that the high tide will soon be washing away, regardless of their opinions.

Gary died early yesterday morning, at a lovely hospice a few miles from here called Martha and Mary’s. He was dollar-poor, in life and in death. But Gary was rich in what mattered: connection to people, God and nature. In his pre-cancer days he’d loved camping and backpacking, and climbed many mountains. He’d had a deep spiritual faith, and been the associate pastor of a close-knit church that nurtured him in his decline. He had not been afraid of his upcoming physical death. He’d had a conviction his spirit would live on.

We in the U.S.  need to get grounded in our unity as human beings and citizens. We are all mortal, all vulnerable to death and loss, all needy of each others’ listening and compassion.  We need to elect political leaders rich in what matters, i.e. the ability to transcend differences and collaborate, rather than act out in bitter, rageful ways.

I’m reminded of Malala, the young education activist who was shot by the Taliban, has recovered and expresses not anger at them, but deepened commitment to her work. I’m giving away a free copy of her excellent autobiography; here are details on that, and more about Malala.

I’m interested in your thoughts and comments. What helps you to transcend differences of opinion? Or, have you ever been positively impacted by the death of someone?

  • Kathy Mayin
    November 3, 2013

    I am so sorry for the loss of your friend.

    • Alison
      November 4, 2013

      Thank you, Kathy. Whenever I have a loss, I feel comforted by the fact that all people sustain losses. I’m really not alone, and in my belief, aloneness is an illusion we fall into, because we have a loving God and we have each other. Our marvelous interconnectedness is something we are good at forgetting! But we’re uplifted whenever we remember it and claim it. Thanks for your condolences — they are an affirmation of connectedness.

  • allison
    November 3, 2013

    Beautiful post, Ali. I am sure Gary agrees with you. <3

    • Alison
      November 4, 2013

      Thanks. Last night I wrote a haiku in Gary Abraham’s honor. (Note: he was an associate pastor at Moreland Bible Church.)

      Preacher Abraham

      My shyest of housemates:
      God — eager to meet you — called
      you home early. Bye.

  • Mike
    November 5, 2013

    I reached a point in my life a long time ago where I decided to ask myself, “Is this difference of opinion, argument or debate worth my time and effort?” Meaning when all is said and done we are often right back at square one. So, I just steer clear the majority of the time on most issues and know that how they feel is about them. Most importantly I want to tell you how deeply sorry I am to hear about Gary, Alison! All my best thoughts to you…

    • Alison
      November 6, 2013

      Mike, I can relate to “when all is said and done we are often right back at square one”. But that is especially true when people’s goals are to be right or become one-up to the other. In contrast, when people have goals of wanting to understand the other person better, or learn things they don’t yet know, the discussion can be fruitful, truly life-giving. These discussions, I want. Debates and arguments, I don’t want.

      Thanks for your condolences, my friend.

  • My Inner Chick
    November 9, 2013

    Sorry about your friend, Gary, dear.

    My thoughts are w/ you. Xx

  • Alison
    November 10, 2013

    Thanks, Kim. I’m looking forward to Gary’s memorial service next Saturday afternoon. I love celebrating a person’s life with other people. And I love the way that you have celebrated/honored your sister’s life for years by elevating the issue of domestic violence (which cut her life cruelly short).

    To my readers: I suggest you visit Kim’s blog (just click on My Inner Chick). I like it so much I have added it to my blogroll.

  • Debra Yearwood
    November 13, 2013

    What a beautiful way of remembering your friend. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    I think when we lose anyone we love it’s an opportunity to reflect and appreciate the ones we still have.

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