Summer is about to descend on our island. Already the streets are more crowded during the day. The sleepy laid back energy of the off- season gradually shifts to one of greater vigilance as visitors blithely step off the curb in front of a moving vehicle to get the best photo from the middle of the street. There are more people walking to their destinations at night, on the wrong side of the road, dressed in dark clothing, barely visible until my headlights are almost on them.
Our sacred texts instruct us to welcome the stranger, to be hospitable to the “alien within our gates”. The teaching is ancient, but living it out does not come automatically. Every year I have to grapple with my feelings of discomfort, the sensation of having unfamiliar guests in my “living room.” Crowded streets, long lines at the post office, no parking spaces anywhere, trash left behind on the usually pristine beaches all make it difficult to embrace the command to welcome the stranger.
This year the abundance of pollens in the air are an apt metaphor for the sense of unwelcome invasion that tries to gain foothold. It lands everywhere. Even the keys of the computer are gritty with it.
The rabbi asked us to look closely at the admonitions for relating to the stranger. She invited us to understand that there are “concentric layers” of strangers in our lives. There are strangers in our families - the ones who are estranged -distanced - in some way; there are the strangers who choose to make their home among us and dwell in our midst; and there are strangers who are just passing through, those who will touch our lives, significantly or peripherally, and we will never see them again.
We have also been having discussions about the Biblical injunction to “be holy for I your God am holy” - - how to be holy, how to bring holiness (wholeness?) into the world around us when the widening gap between the wealthy visitors and the less than affluent “year - rounders” who provide services becomes more pronounced with each passing season. Learning how to be “holy be-ings” who can embrace and welcome the stranger is the challenge with the onset of every summer season.
How do I determine what is a “holy being?” Sheila Peltz Weinberg suggests the following :
Who are holy beings?
They are beloved, clear of mind and courageous.
Their will and God’s will are one.
Raising their voices in constant gratitude
they marvel at every detail of life,
Granting each other loving permission to be exactly who they are.
When we listen for their sweet voices,
we can hear the echo within our own souls.
Ahhh! So there is the challenge to be encountered in the midst of the stress of any particular moment in life! To give thanks continually - - to marvel in wonder at the immense diversity and beauty of life - - to grant loving permission to all we encounter to be exactly who they are.
Strangers, like the pollens, come and go. May they each be blessed with a sense of well-being, a sense of being welcomed, a sense of respite and relief from their daily stresses back home. May they be whole. May they find wholeness (holiness) here. May they be restored and take a measure of holiness home with them.
Wherever we are, the stress of encountering the stranger may give us pause to reflect. There is much in the worldwide political and social and economic climate of our human existence that summons us to fear the stranger - to see an enemy in the stranger - to resist the presence of the stranger in our midst, to resent whatever the stranger might represent to us. As a stumbling peacemaker and as a struggling practitioner of living nonviolence, one thing I can do is to give thanks and marvel at the amazing array of human diversity - and perhaps utter a soft “God bless you!” each time an allergic response to the stranger makes itself known. Pollens and strangers - - they come and go. May peace be with them. May they each fulfill their reason for being as this planet turns.