This article was part of Rachel Pieh Jones' series, Strong in the Broken, on her blog Djibouti Jones. You can find it here.
I do not recall fearing others the first half of my life.
It begins the first time I hear someone say this or that about me. It heightens when I notice others plot to vote against me in a school election. At its peak, I hear the booing as I walk up to receive an award and want to hide from the public (or people in general) forever. At the same time, loved ones’ verbal cut-downs continue throughout the years. This punch to the gut continues beating me up in every new relationship—not necessarily from anything the other person does but from the possibility of what they could do. I see the lady with the beautiful garden and the multitude of trinkets sitting on her porch each time I jog by and the woman in the brown house with white shutters who checks her mailbox during my stroll. As a Christian, I know I should not avoid people but rather love them. I am scared though. In this instance, I am scared of the frailest woman and what she may think of me.
To rightly love others, I must get over my fear of what they think of me.
I hear a couple explain the difficulty in building relationships with the people in their community across the world. They share how it takes years for the people to welcome you in a deep and meaningful way. This hits me. I think about the importance of staying in the same area for a long time because of this, but then it hits me harder as I ponder my impact on my own community. Over the last few years, the impact has been small.
On my next run around the neighborhood, I start to notice people, namely the elderly. I wonder who they are, what they believe, how they feel, and what they may need. Do they have faith convictions? Is their faith deeper because of their years? Are they lonely? Do they have loved ones who take care of them? Questions like these flood my mind, but then fears sprinkle in one by one—as they often do. I wonder what people would think of me if I went up to talk to them. I imagine a snarky response or being ignored. I fear their reaction to how I would approach them, when I would do it, and what I would say.
I’ve lived in this neighborhood for two and a half years and only know the neighbors to my left and my right. I believe the couple when they said relationships take time to build, especially in a different culture. How much more frightening is it to approach those who see you as a foreigner than the elderly woman who lights up with a youthful glow in seeing a young face speak to her? The boo-ers from my youth were people I knew for many years. I remember calling them my friends. The verbally abusive were the ones who knew me (or thought they did) the best. I shudder to bring many people close enough to where they could point fingers or stab me in the back.
But something deep compels me to love even if I don’t receive love in return.