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At the produce market, I got in line behind a lady holding a single avocado as if it were a precious gem. “Perfectly ripe,” she said lovingly. “Hardly ever happens!”

We started chatting, and I asked her what avocado tastes like. “Never tried it,” I said.

She looked at me, mouth agape. “That’s like saying you’ve never had an apple! You’ve never had an avocado? How can that be?!?”

Amused at her sweet befuddlement, I went on. “And I’ve never tasted guacamole either!”

She was aghast. “Oh, you must try it! It’s so easy to make. And you’ll love it. I promise!”

Now mind you, I’ve been offered guacamole at a party. And I’ve been near avocados, certainly. At the store. At friends’ houses. I mean, I’ve been avocado-adjacent.

I think I made up my mind when I looked at guacamole for the first time: I’m not gonna like that. Its insides are an unsettling shade of green. Chartreuse? Not something I’m intending to ingest.

The same thing with crustaceans. I’ve never had oyster, crab or lobster in my life. I got it into my head that I wouldn’t like the texture.

One day when I suddenly get rich (Might happen. Could happen. Yep.) I’m probably going to HAVE to eat lobster. Probably some kind of rule. That, and caviar. Tiny fish eggs? Yes, but why? Cuz they taste like salt? Why not eat a potato chip instead?

Now, I have to wonder: Have I done that with people I’ve met? Those times where I’ve made a snap judgment about someone based on next to nothing and decided not to trust them. Or maybe the set of someone’s face rubbed me the wrong way. Being aware of this all-too human habit may be a step in the right direction.

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I know a woman named Holly Champagne. It would be hard not to be ebullient with a name like that. Of course, my mother thought “Lori” was an ebullient name, and I am anything but. On the other hand, I once watched one of those “true-life” court shows that featured a boy named Nefarious — nefarious! — who was doing his level best to live up — or is that down? — to his name. Maybe labels are slipperier than we think.

Back in high school, one of my classmates gave quick, one-word descriptors of a group of us girls to a group of boys. My descriptor was “smart,” and even in that moment, I saw my chances with any of those boys fade into nothingness. Words do hurt, do bind and do restrain. But no word can possibly encapsulate the totality of who we are.

Labeling yourself, whether in a positive, negative or even neutral way, sets up certain expectations, certain limits. I am not just a woman, a Catholic, a brunette (a fact that grows more apparent even as my hair grows), a feminist, a liberal. Because what you expect and conjure up on the basis of those words may be as far from true as slapping the word “petite” on me. (Or, as I said to my husband after a recent outing to the movies, “I’m six feet tall and I just saw ‘Wonder Woman.’ I’d get out of my way.”)

God, the author of words (for which I am eternally grateful) does not care much for labels, I think. Labels can be traps. But we humans sure seem to love them, if only for quickly and summarily lumping together and dismissing others as unlike ourselves. We have a deep need to belong to a tribe. And part of finding your tribe seems to include excluding those who do not fit the parameters.

You see a lot of this is the comments section of any social media posting. “Those people” are idiots, losers, corrupt or foolish. “My people” are not. What if, for just one day, we stopped believing in “mine” and “yours,” “them” and “us”? What if we ignored all the labels — rich, poor, dumb, smart, fat, thin — and just got to know one another without expectation or judgment, without filing each person we meet into neat little folders — “like me” or “not like me”?

I suspect something radical would happen. I also suspect that it cannot be done. We like our labels too much. So, instead, let me suggest a new label — “human.” Think about that word. Let the connotations that swirl around it emerge. Hopefully, these thoughts contain such sentiments as “fragile,” “prone to error” and even “lovable.”

Now try applying that label to everyone you meet. It is, after all, how God sees us.

This Post Contains Spoilers

To be a writer, you need skin thick enough to withstand the rejection of publishers, agents, potential clients – none of whom know you, but all of whom are making assumptions about you.

Comparing you to the best-selling authors they are truly seeking. Extrapolating – based on the length of your resumé – that you might be a tad long in the tooth – one might say – and perhaps aren’t current in terms of topical trends and social media.

But you also – simultaneously – need skin thin enough to feel life as it flows through you so you’ll have something to write about. To be sensitive and sentient. To be a risk-taker. An open-hearted soul-explorer.

The same paradox holds true for those of us who profess faith.

Sometimes I think my own ideology is somewhat – let’s say – idealized. I want to believe in the goodness of humanity. I want to believe that it will all make sense one day. But I believe that faith is a muscle, and it must be stretched – and that’s just what happens when we experience loss, feel doubt or go through hardships.

It seems sometimes that the hardest part isn’t the pain, but the struggle to stay human.

Spoiler alert: God’s still in charge.

I believe with all my hopeful heart that it will work out for you in the end.

People may try to pigeon-hole you, stereo-type you, or call you a “work-in-progress.”

They may passive-aggressively say they’ll “keep you in their prayers.”

But you know who you are. And you know whose you are. You won’t be constrained by hyphens. You can’t be contained by pain. You are God’s own. You’re not alone.

You write the story as you go – published by Providence and ghost-written by Grace.

Here’s to a hope-filled happy ending!

I did a very human thing today: I overslept. That is, I allowed myself to oversleep. As a freelance writer and editor, my days are very much mine. Still, I like to keep to a schedule, knowing that each day there are things to be done. This morning, however, I didn’t much care. Sleep felt good.

It got me thinking about what silly, frail things we humans are and why God made us this way. That thought, along with yesterday’s (Ash Wednesday) reminder that “Thou art dust, and into dust thou shall return,” brought the following poem into being.

Mostly hairless we emerge,
without camouflage, no defense for weather,
readily succumbing to the vagaries of air,
mold, wee beasties. The odds are stacked against us.
Frequently too moist or too parched, we wend our way
on just two legs — imagine! We give in to fatigue,
illness, our own primal fears.
We need love or we will turn out badly.

What divine fingers forged such clumsy forms!
And yet we take to the skies,
wonder readily,
solve the seemingly insoluble.
And for what? A prize? Prizes too are made of dust.
Whatever is eternal has left its mark on us.
Yes, we are clay, both ash and angel,
the ultimate cosmic conundrum.

All the possibilities dust ever faced —
to wreak and wreck and be swept away
or to transform:
We carry them in our pockets,
along with our insecurities, our moments of transcendence.
Will we face our Maker with dirty hands
or new wheat? It is madness to let dust decide.
And yet it does.

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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