Our Thanksgiving feast this year included far-flung family members from New Mexico, Chicago and Boston. One special VIP couldn't join us and instead spent her Thursday working. (Click through to that link and see why I am one proud mom.) I'll admit I'm wiped out. Cooking for eleven is tough. But I'm truly happy to do it. I have a lot to be thankful for. Yes, yes, yes. I'm thankful for my family, my home, my career, etc. Of course I am.
I'm also thankful for things that are much harder to express.
Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine featured an article by Laila Lalami about living in the Gray Zone. You should definitely make time to read what Ms. Lalami writes because she is eloquent. While she is speaking specifically about Muslims this paragraph resonated with me:
Whose lives are gray? Mine, certainly. I was born in one nation (Morocco) speaking Arabic, came to my love of literature through a second language (French) and now live in a third country (America), where I write books and teach classes in yet another language (English). I have made my home in between all these cultures, all these languages, all these countries. And I have found it a glorious place to be. My friends are atheists and Muslims, Jews and Christians, believers and doubters. Each one makes my life richer.
My parents left the city when I was a child and I was raised in the northern suburbs. My parents worked hard to provide a modest middle-class lifestyle. Church was central to our lives. Everyone I knew had a church affiliation. I even met my husband in church.
When I went off to college I attended a few ecumenical services. But slowly I let religion slip from my life and I moved to the gray. I didn't have to leave the church to find the gray. It was there in the corners: the quietly gay choir director, the black Baptist church, the visiting Rabbi. But leaving the church made it easier for me to see the narrowness that happens when any group gathers.
I don't care what the group is: a religion, a social group, a non-profit organization. Every group that exists creates language, traditions and expectations. Language especially helps people within that group feel that they belong and are included. The problem is that that language also inadvertently creates a second class of people—the excluded. (Think of the crazy shorthand acronyms that every group has. Then think about how that makes new comers feel excluded and I think you will begin to understand what I'm talking about.) And no matter how popular or large your "group" is there will always be a majority of people that are not included. The world is messy and cacophonous and varied. We can't possibly all fit in one group.
Separately we are like the colors of a Pantone guide. I have always declared that no color is ugly —it simply has to be paired with appropriate colors. Just like those chips each person is their own unique color—with their own gifts, quirks and beliefs. Spin us like a colorful top and together we are a lovely shade of gray.
The gray is a pretty interesting place. Today our friends represent many faiths. Some are devout Christians or Jews. Others are Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. Some are atheists. I honestly don't know the faith of most of them. They are straight, homosexual, single, married, Republican, Democrat, young and old. Many hold advanced degrees—some have no college degree but have traveled the world exploring. Some hold scientific patents. Others are artists and activists. They are beekeepers and musicians and office workers and teachers. All are lovely, colorful, beautiful, deeply flawed people and I am thankful for every one of them.
The events of the past month have left the world feeling a bit raw and exposed. I understand the inclination to hole up and be with people that look like us, worship like us and speak our language. However, I encourage us to embrace those colors we don't know. Find out what makes them unique and wonderful and ultimately pull them close into our beautiful gray.
As a mom I worry for my daughter in Europe. But at the same time I urge everyone to emulate her. I for one hope to continue to open my mind and heart to cultures, languages and people I don't know.
I want us all to have something to be thankful for.