Hanging Out With The Smokers/ FaithWalk

Photo Credit: Julie Bocchino/ Creative Commons

A sea of faces surrounded me after the church service. I scanned the room but somehow felt disconnected. Everyone seemed caught up in conversations or huddles. I wasn’t in the mood to try and be sociable or welcome the newcomers. So I withdrew from the hub of activity and chatter and headed outside.

Although it was a bitterly cold winter’s day, the sun shone brilliantly, casting warmth, light and shadows around the walls of the building. Leaning against the sand coloured bricks, I enjoyed the sun’s rays and the solitude for a few moments. After a while a couple of others came to join me. But they were there for a different purpose…to light up and enjoy a smoke. Then came another. One rolled her own cigarette, the others drew theirs from a packet.

We started up a conversation; it was laid back and I realised how little I knew of these people who sat a few rows away from me minutes earlier.

I don’t normally chat to these individuals, perhaps giving only a cursory glance and a polite ‘hello’ upon passing by over coffee. They have different styles and backgrounds to me, we probably don’t have much in common – though a couple of them also have kids.

One chap in a wheelchair explained how he’d arrived a bit late and missed coffee. But he wasn’t moaning, he was smiling about his mistake of setting off too late. I had also missed my cuppa, but wasn’t too pleased about it.

Another woman mentioned someone we knew who’s rather marginalised and looks a bit of a sorry state most of the time. I discovered that she had invited him for Christmas dinner upon finding out that he would be all alone. This from a woman with a young family and who is obviously not well off. I was humbled. She had been Christ-like in opening her home to a lonely, difficult  person; I didn’t really want the hassle of even considering something like that.

One of my sons also came outside to join me. He was fed up and wanted to go home. He often finds church boring. But he observed these smokers and listened to the conversation. The guy in the wheelchair asked him about gaming and his iPod touch. My son’s face lit up, pleased that some interest was shown in him.

These people I hung out with do not have easy lives or much money. Yes, they were wasting some on cigarettes, but maybe I’m a bit profligate when it comes to wine or shoes at times. Some could perhaps have been described as typical working class or on the sidelines. They hadn’t reached a high level of education or attained notable status in the community or church. But somehow they inspired me and somehow I learned from them. I enjoyed their company, their smiles and acceptance. I didn’t have to be anything other than me.

It reminded me that it’s good to be broadminded and get to know those from different communities or groups to the one you’re settled in. In those few short minutes outside among some wafts of cigarette smoke, I experienced true Christian fellowship – all divisive barriers down, everyone an equal child of God. And I found it quite refreshing. It’s encouraged me to seek opportunities to be on the edge, to gain a different perspective and to learn from others in unsuspecting places. Having just heard a gripping talk on issues of social justice it seemed quite an appropriate lesson to learn.

Living in Community: Reinforcing my Humanity

Photo credit: Creative Commons

This morning I stopped in our street to chat with a neighbour who’s recently moved in. I’ve known her for quite a while, since her children attend the same schools as mine. Among other topics, we talked about a great baker’s in town, which was previously unknown to me. Note to self: must buy some fresh bread there next time I’m passing that way.

Later in the afternoon my retired next door neighbour came by to ask if we’d be able to put his bins out while he is away next week. “Of course”, I replied, “that’s no problem at all.” We then went on to chat about his planned trip to Italy before I returned to finish unpacking my shopping.

Last night another neighbour a few doors down dropped in to talk about how our rabbit was adapting to his new environment. (She was temporarily minding him while we were looking after a rescue dog for the week.) She stayed a while and we had a good laugh over the antics of rabbits.

Throughout the week I’ve had various exchanges with individuals who live all around me, not necessarily long conversations – but certainly more than a cursory glance and a wave.

I live in a neighbourhood that reflects the diversity of our city. In our street alone there are young families and families with teenagers, students, elderly folk, Italians, Slovakians and Pakistanis; singles, unemployed people, blue collar and white collar employees – perhaps mirroring a whole cross section of British society.

Like most places, my area has its pros and cons, but on the whole I like it. I enjoy being in touch with those who live around me. It reinforces my humanity and confirms my part in building positive relationships with others – even those with whom I might not easily get along.

The other day my Slovakian neighbour dropped around a couple of packages that the postman had left with him. He often signs for our parcels (we order a lot online) and brings them over with a smile. We’ve passed on a few items of furniture to him, for which he has been grateful. There are some obvious, mutual benefits to living in close proximity.

Compare this to the time we lived in a large house in New Jersey for three years, when we only spoke to our immediate neighbours a few times. We didn’t know anyone else in the street, hardly ever saw them – let alone conversed with them. Driving everywhere most of the time probably didn’t help. Around here, people walk quite a bit and there’s a park nearby where one nearly always bumps into a few known faces.

Here in our city street I know at least ten individuals or families by name, as well as some others. Most of us have lived here several years, which helps in this regard. Many have children of similar ages to mine. Yet we are all quite different – whether in age, style, background or ethnicity. I got to know several of them when I joined the committee of our Residents’ Association a few years ago.

I’m pretty sure I would be utterly bored to only live life around others just like me. It’s the differences that make community interesting. I guess that’s part of my eclectic nature: I like variety; uniformity just doesn’t appeal to me. The thought of neighbourhoods reminiscent of The Truman Show movie scares the heck out of me.

Perhaps what I appreciate most of all about my community? There are no dilemmas concerning ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. There’s freedom to be yourself and maintain your own preferences. No one cares less what car you drive or whether there’s dust on your mantelpiece. And that about sums it up: we accept one another and support one another. As true communities should.