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The woman looked like she was seeing a ghost. “Joan?” she asked. She shook her head. “No, you can’t be. You must be her daughter.”

We were meeting up with my mother’s best friend outside a local theme park. The two hadn’t seen each other in thirty years, so my mother sent me over to see whether the woman in question really was Rita. That’s when she confirmed, as so many others had and have (before and since) my “remarkable” resemblance to my mother.

Only I have never seen it. I don’t have my mother’s large, deep-set eyes, with brow bones to die for. I don’t have her chiseled cheekbones. I’m a full eight inches taller than she is. She has auburn hair and eyes like polished cherry wood; I have dark brown hair and plain brown eyes. And yet those who have known my mother have always commented on our alikeness.

On our last visit to California, Mom showed me an old photo album: pictures of her mother, her uncles who served in World War One, and finally, her own graduation photo. And there it was. Bam! I saw myself in her at last.

In the last year, there have been a number of people I’ve not wanted to see myself in. I imagine this is true for everyone. It is especially true in recent weeks, with all the press about Roy Moore’s run for Senate. How could anyone support such a person? What was wrong with them? They seemed to me some new species of life form, so divorced from humanity as to be something that ought to be studied under a microscope.

And yet. I’m willing to bet that if I spoke to one of these people — maybe for minutes, maybe for days or weeks or years — I would find our point of commonality. I would see myself in them. Because, at some level, we are all the same. We are human.

I want you to think of a person or group of persons that you feel no kinship with. (Don’t kid yourself; we all have one. Or more.) Think about someone whose values, ideas and life has no intersection with your own, whose thoughts and feelings are as foreign to you as a place on a map so remote, you’ve never heard of it. Ho-Ho-Kus. Penetanguishene. Zwolfaxing.

Now think about this: You are more like this person or persons than you are unlike them. How can we bear ill will toward — essentially — ourselves? How can we refuse to see the similarities between ourselves and others? And, having seen them, how can we reject anyone, anywhere, anywhen?

I think that’s what makes hatred: fear. Fear of seeing ourselves as we look into the eyes of others. Fear of seeing that God made all of us, and we are one. Fear that we’re really not that different.

When my mother first saw me after my birth, she said it was “like looking into a mirror.” This Advent season, let’s challenge ourselves to turn the mirrors in the most unlikeliest of directions. Let’s try to see the junctures, the coinciding points, the commonalities. And if we still don’t like what we see, let’s ask the hard question — what is it in me that I don’t want to see?

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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.

gandhiYesterday was Ash Wednesday. A time of contemplation. A time to consider how to strip away what stands between us and God.  A time to contemplate what keeps others from seeing the light of God in us.

For me, it was an insanely frustrating day. So what is standing between me and God?  Between God’s light in me and other people? Frustration.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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