Celebrate Difference

As a kid, I learned what it meant to be different. That was not the easiest thing in a small town where most of the people were similar. We were mostly kids of working fathers and stay-at-home moms. Our dads were some kind of trade worker: carpenters, painters, plumbers, or nonprofessional workers. We heard that these jobs were not valued the same as doctors or other people who had gone to college. But to me, they were different.  

Our town was similar to many small towns in America during the 1950s. The people who were of the lowest income, of a different color, or different nationality lived in a specific section or on a particular set of streets. Sure, we had to cross to the other side for groceries, church, and school, but you also knew you would need to cross back. I lived on that lower income side. I crossed back and forth daily. I learned several ways in which I was different. I was the daughter of an alien. My dad was not, and still isn’t, a citizen of the US.  

My dad was born and raised in France during WW2. He came to the US after the war. He had a hefty foreign accent. We also ate things the neighbors did not have for dinner, like snails, rabbits, and goats. My grandmother could turn almost anything, including birds she hunted with a slingshot, into a tasty meal. I knew these foods were different, but I saw no reason not to like them.  

By the time I was in school, I understood that people did not universally accept my religion. My family were active churchgoers, kept the Sabbath holy, and gave what we could to help the world and our neighbors even though we didn’t have much to offer. When Kennedy ran for President, the neighbors said we would all have to follow what the Pope said. That statement gave me pause. I was starting to understand that difference led to suspicion. 

Midway through elementary school, I understood that the expectations for girls and women were not the same as for men. I discovered that there were occupations, good government jobs, that had notations that read-only men. All this talk of difference led to a big revelation as a child: differences were not respected. Differences led to segregation. Differences led to discrimination.   

As we move through this day and age, I still see many ways we have decided as a society to classify someone as not worthy. Laws are passed to make differences a reason to make it difficult for someone to practice their faith or respect their culture. Consider that some beliefs need to change over time. 

In college, I discovered a group of dorm mates who loved to exchange recipes, including many things I had never eaten. Others ate tasty but different things, just like me. As time passed, I got to attend worship with people not of my faith. I heard some beautiful music and excellent sermons. I kept listening. Last year, I learned about Siblings’ Day, where brothers and sisters celebrate their bond. In all these things, I find a reason to love, a reason to respect, a reason to celebrate. I see a reason to celebrate difference.  

I hope we can push through all the exclusionary practices. I invite you to look for the path of authentic inclusion. What you will find there will be amazing people on the same journey of life, loving and caring for family and neighbors. You will find different cultures as discoveries, treasures of information, and practices that hold us together in spirit and support life’s challenges. We will find reasons to wonder and hope for goodness in the world. Let’s celebrate differences and stand for equity in all things.