Lent Project Day 25: Come as you are

A white exterior door with an antique door knocker. Hanging from the knocker is a round sign with the word Welcome in brown script.
Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

My mom told me a story once about her grandfather. He never went to mass, and as he neared the end of his life, he said that he didn’t go because he wasn’t invited. Everyone else in the house went, but he didn’t have a personal invitation from someone, so he woudn’t/couldn’t/didn’t go. I always found that a little self important. Who was it exactly that he wanted an invite from. Because to my ears, him desiring to go sounds like he heard *God himself* inviting him. But because my great grandmother didn’t say beg him to go, he didn’t. I call shenanigans. That sounds like a giant excuse to me.

But I’ve missed mass from time to time, so I’m not casting the first rock. Go, or don’t. That’s on you to decide.

I get it though. I walk Louie almost every night, I ask my gentleman associate if he’d like to come. He always says no. I asked him half a dozen times if he wants to go see the Christmas light displays around Cambridge, he said no. So I don’t ask anymore. Maybe eventually he’ll feel left out, like my great-grandfather did, and I won’t know. Hopefully he’ll have the courage to speak up if that day arrives.

There’s a phone app called Sit with us. It’s purported to make school more welcoming and prevent bullying. In giant letters on their website it says “The first step to a warmer, more inclusive community can begin with LUNCH”. The way it’s supposed to work is that you can coordinate and make lunch “events” so that no one has to eat alone. But here’s the thing. Your events are attended by your friends, so the people on the periphery who would do well to have an invitation to not eat alone are still on the periphery. Sure, you can organize an open event, but will someone actually attend, uninvited, or will they feel like they are out of their element, an interloper at an event not meant for them? What if you want to sit alone for a while to finish homework, or to just have some quiet time?

So yeah, there’s also been some backlash against the app. There’s a crisis of communication, it seems. There’s a disparity between what’s needed and what’s on offer. When I was in my last year of high school, many of my peers and I had really strange schedules as we struggled to fit the courses we required into our schedules. In the first semester, I had spare-class-class-spare-class. Second semester I had class-spare-spare-spare-class. Some others had the same. We parked in the middle of the cafeteria at a row of tables. Someone from our group was always there – we’d be playing Scopa or Briscola, doing homework, grazing through the middle 3 lunch periods (our school was huge, and not everyone could take lunch at the same time). Anyway, people came and went all day. I’m sure there were students who chose to go to the safe space of a library instead of the open range of the cafeteria, but I didn’t notice then.

And I guess that’s the point. I didn’t see because I wasn’t looking. Who knows what I’d have notices if I actually tried.

After Brexit, people wore safety pins so that people who were encountering racism and abuse knew they had found an ally to ride public transit with. Its a subtle gesture of welcome, but sometimes, that’s all that’s warranted. But in the US, after Trump was elected, there was massive backlash – maybe wearing a safety pin isn’t enough. Maybe we need to do more within our sphere of influence to be more overt.

My parents home has always been a respite for what my dad calls his strays and orphans. Everyone is welcome there. My sister and I have had friends (both as children and adults) who were going to be alone on a holiday (or, yaknow, a Sunday). My dad wasn’t having it. They should come and spend it with us, rather than eating cold cereal for Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t know what my dad thought these friends did at other times; surely they didn’t eat cold cereal *all* the time, did they?? Anyway. Offers were always extended to the strays and orphans. He didn’t do it because he felt sorry for them, he did it because he wanted everyone to feel as great as he did when he had a good dinner with sparkling conversation. In this, he taught me the difference between sympathy and empathy. But despite his protestations that my sister and my friends were not imposing, some did not attend. At that he said “If you come, you do me a favour. If you don’t, you do me two favours”. He meant that he only worried about those who accepted the invitation; if others didn’t want to join, he took that to mean that they were happy enough alone. He appreciated the difference between alone and lonely.

This Lent, may I try harder to notice who is on the periphery looking for a way in. May I be gracious and welcoming in every interaction I have, and may I approach every situation assuming good intentions.

Extra Credit:

Teen Makes ‘Sit With Us’ App That Helps Students Find Lunch Buddies

I’ve created landing pages for the last 2 years of Lent Project. You can access them from the Reflections Projects option in the menu bar. Happy reading, friends!

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