One rainy day a couple of weeks ago, I was standing at the corner of 100th Street and 102nd Avenue with the usual students, professionals (me included) and “people without place” waiting for the light to change. I had my big umbrella with me, the one I like to use for heavy rain because it will keep all of me, and everything for a few feet around, snug and dry for my long walk to work. As we waited, a young man playfully sidled up to me and popped his head alongside mine. “Hey, can I sneak under your umbrella for a minute? I hate getting wet.”
I could smell the alcohol on his breath. But he had a great smile and I smiled in return. Who likes getting wet? Then his friend asked, “Can I come too?”
The first thing out of my mouth? “Well, I can’t fit everyone under here!”
Isn’t that the reaction we’re seeing played out across the globe and close to home right now? The fear of scarcity. A very human reaction.
“Sure you can,” my new friend assured me. “Okay,” I said. “All right,” my feelings suddenly a strange mix of sheepishness and elation. We crossed the street that way, chatty, fast friends, the three of us under a common turtle’s back for a few precious moments.
German Sociologist Aladin El-Mafalaani points out that we live in one of the most conflicted times in human history and, paradoxically, in a time of unprecedented social progress. The flashpoint for this conflict is the migrant, whether the migrant from our own backyards or the one we see adrift on our television screens every night, because he/she represents the intersection of our society’s inner and outer struggle with openness. El-Mafalaani argues that before every major social change—the rise of democracy, civil rights, human rights, women’s rights, protections for ethnic and religious minorities or people with disabilities–there is pushback. “Conflict is energy.” Conflict gives rise to innovation. “Without conflict, there is no social progress.” It’s how we deal with it. Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: contemplation. And something very like I heard from one of the speakers at the first Women’s March here in January 2017, “Reach out to someone you strongly disagree with. Engage in a dialogue. Listen to their point of view.”
“Where are you headed this morning,” I asked my young friend? He hesitated for a minute, still smiling. “I think City Centre. Maybe I’ll get a cigarette. I don’t know. I like to wing it; that’s just how I am.”
I thought about the Eastern Orthodox tradition of holy fools. Often homeless, always poor, appearing insane and even intoxicated, deliberate “fools for God.” Maybe my young friends are a modern version of that joyously-in-your-face protest of the world or the product of a deep history of societal pain or both. Either way, like the wildflowers and the grass of the field all around us this time of the year that neither toil nor spin, yet are gloriously arrayed (Matthew 6:28), they call out to be noticed.