Monday, July 30, 2007

Being Different



I may or may not have mentioned before that I am from the Midwest. I even live in the Midwest right now. And I belong to an ethnic persuasian that is pretty common in the Midwest. Which is to say: I fit in here. I pretty much look like I belong. And, as a child, I might even go so far as to say that sometimes I was even invisible.

Now there are a couple of exceptions to this rule. But they are for another post.

Back in the fall of 1981 (so long ago it's a wonder I can even remember it) I went to Japan as a short-term missionary for the LCA. (Lutheran Church in America.) With a few other young American Lutherans, I studied Japanese in Tokyo for a time and then went to the small (by Japanese standards) town of Kumamoto to teach at an all-boys junior and senior high.

For the first time in my life, I had the sensation that I was not invisible. Ever.

Everywhere I went I stuck out. And not because I was so cute (although in the early 80s, I was kind of cute), but because I looked different than almost everyone else, with the exception of the few other foreigners who lived in my town.

In case you think I'm exaggerating a little, all of us had this or a similar experience on occasion: a small child, upon seeing one of us, points and screams, "gaijin!" (foreigner) or, even, if a very small child, bursts into tears.

I had never experienced, on an emotional level, what it felt like to be a minority. I had always had the luxury of being part of a dominant or majority group. I didn't understand why people who were not like me would want to ever be in a group of people just like themselves. Now I thought I had just a little window of insight.

The movie "ET" came out while I was in Japan. The other young teachers and I joked that ET stood for "English Teacher". Sometimes we felt that strange.

So, there were times when we did need to be together, to support each other, to share our experiences with each other, just to let down our guard a little.

But of course, there's a danger in "too much" support, too. If we only went around supporting each other and talking to each other and eating with each other, then we might forget that we were in this place for a purpose, and on a mission.

To share God's love -- God's inclusive love for all of us -- no matter how different we feel, or are.

18 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Diane, sometimes with my blog, I wonder if I'm not preaching only to the choir, but then I remind myself that there may be folks reading who don't comment, and perhaps they're not in the choir, and I may make a small difference.

In my home town and my church, I am different, not that I look different, but that my opinions on politics and inclusiveness withing the church are different from most folks. I get my dose of being "strange" right here at home, and that's all to the good.

Gannet Girl said...

After six years of teaching in an Orthodox Jewish school, I am convinced that we all need to have the experience of being in a visible and suspect minority.

Diane said...

Amen both to grandmere mimi and to gannet girl!

Serena said...

Yep, and Amen to your post. Very good reflection. Thanks.

RevDrKate said...

Had a one day experience of this in DC as a high school student. Very profound for a girl from a 98% all-the-same kind of place. And yes amen to the wise comments! We cannot assume we know who the "different" ones are either, can we?

Jan said...

Diane, I loved reading about your time in Japan. I lived in Japan on a U.S. Naval Base when I was in junior high. Being a young adolescent, I don't think I noticed being different that much then. However, when I visited my oldest daughter AE in Korea (where she taught English for three years), I definitely felt different. Even MORE was when I went to Zambia and went to far-flung villages--being white and overweight made me VERY visible. And I'm still thinking about your post. Thank you.

LawAndGospel said...

Dinae, your post gave a lot to think about. On a much smaller scale, when we were in Quebec province, although we looked the same, once out of the city, we were the lingual minority. The other places I have traveled, I have known the language. It was interesting to accept the good graces of others. On a related note, I posted today about my thoughts after seeing "Hairspray" and growing up in the 1960's in the Midwest where I never saw anyone who was not like me.

Presbyterian Gal said...

Very thoughtful post reflecting on your experience. Thanks.

I have been branded different since I was 3 years old by just some really wanked out things. From rape to being skipped a year in school. And all points in between. I have never ever ever felt like I belonged anywhere for more than maybe a year with the exception of being my son's mom.

Maybe that makes me fickle sometimes. Or maybe makes me want inclusion just that smidge too much. Whatever. At least I have one place that's welcomed me for more than one solid year. It's rather like having waders to wear while slogging through crap.

Sorry. Having a bad week. But your post gives me a better spin on it.

Marsha said...

We simply moved from the midwest (Indiana) to the deep south (Louisiana) and I know that my perspective changed as a result of the move. While I don't feel like I experienced what it feels like to be a minority, I did have to learn how to get along with people who grew up with different attitudes and viewpoints than those which I had been exposed to. The difference in attitudes was a bigger (and a more difficult to adapt to) change than going from a 95% majority white environment to a 55% - 45% racial divide.

I would agree that it is good to experience life from a different perspective than just that which we grew up in.

Barbara B. said...

and I'll add that I love the picture too!

Rowan The Dog said...

I came back to read this a second time. I think it's a good piece of writing and really hits the nail on the head for me.
Lindy

PS to Presby Gal... Sorry for your bad week.

Diane said...

thanks for all of your thoughtful comments, and Presby Gal, sorry about your bad week, too.

Grace thing said...

Thoughtful post, Diane. I think it's a good idea to voluntarily put ourselves into the minority, once in while, and you're reminding me I'm overdue for that...I live in a very homogenous community. Last year I "stood out" just for a morning, but it was profound. I went to a church with mostly African American congregants and it blew me away to be completely different and I felt it conspicuously, but as the church service wore on, I became less and less different. It was so powerful to realize how much the same we were as children of God. I was stared at and smiled at and watched then hugged and welcomed and prayed for.

mompriest said...

On the one hand I can't say I have ever had the experience of being in the minority, in that way. But, like Presbgal, I have often felt like the "odd one out." Lots of reasons, most of them cultural and political.

Thanks, diane, for this thoughtful post.

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

well I have had a similar feeling moving out of my cutural comfort zone a time or two... stranger in a strange land indeed.

lj said...

My first trip out of the Midwest was when I was 14 ... and I went to Haiti. Talk about culture shock. But that one week of being the minority -- racially and economically -- changed my life. I love seeking out diversity now, in its many forms, to keep me on my toes and more honest about myself. Great post, Diane.

prgirl said...

Wonderful, insightful blog. Does anyone ever feel they belong? I spent four years in the Amazon jungle (living, no kidding among endocannibals--they only ate their dead relative)..I was really the odd person out. And tall (and I'm 5 feet). The cannibals were sweet and loving--no kidding. But I still was "a stranger"....

Diane said...

Wow, now there's a story for you... prgirl, you need to write that sometime.