Engaging Others

Jul 14, 2013 | Field Notes

We are having some outside painting done on our home. One day last week I struck up a conversation with two of the painters. Both were recent immigrants from South America, one having spent twelve years in Miami, Florida before immigrating to Canada seven months ago. Both have young families and see coming to Canada as an opportunity to improve their economic prospects. They are simply part of the millions of people across our globe who are moving in search of a better life. What that ‘better life’ entails and whether North American culture holds a better life than elsewhere are important questions to ponder. But, for today, I am struck with how meeting others from a far away place and a different culture brings the emerging global village right into my own home.

The other, while different from me, is not that different from me. We may struggle understanding one another due to language and customs. But these are easily overcome when we try to communicate about what we share in common: belonging to a family, having a home in a particular place, desiring meaningful work and so on. After chatting with these painters I reflected a little upon my own ancestry. Along my paternal line I can locate the time and place of immigration to Canada to 1658 when the Dallaire’s arrived on the Ile d’Orleans, outside Quebec City. They left the rolling coastal hills of Brittany, France for a better life in the new world. On my mother’s side, her family fled Ireland during the 1830’s and settled on a small 100 acre farm just outside of Ottawa. Neither side of my family had it easy that’s for sure. But, that seems to have been the lot of most immigrants to Canada.

Listening to the stories of these two painters helps me to appreciate my own story for I can imagine some of the challenges my ancestors faced in leaving their homeland and trying to start anew in a foreign land. Indeed, the ‘other’ helps me to understand myself. This is one of the blessings of our global village where migration patterns have far surpassed the trends of previous eras.

While there are indeed blessings to new global immigration patterns it must be admitted that not all immigrants are welcomed with open arms. Indeed, many face challenges that can be almost insurmountable or places where the faces at the borders are hostile rather than appreciative. This is why Pope Francis’ recent visit to Lampedusa, the tiny island off the coast of Italy, was so significant. This island is a major landing point for many African migrants but unfortunately some die before arriving on the island and many are treated as outcasts once they land. Francis called such treatment of immigrants a sign of the ‘globalization of indifference’ and urged people around the world to open their hearts to the needs of the other who is seeking a home and a future.

As our world continues to shrink and as different people are brought together it seems to me that we need to continue to develop our heart skills so that we are better able to understand our shared humanity rather than our differences. Indeed, the ‘other’ is just as essential to my becoming ‘myself’ as I am to helping the ‘other’ feel at home. Our stories our interwoven and in many ways our journeys are similar. We are altogether in this wonderful, complex village of ours seeking the best life possible. How we engage and welcome others in this seeking is an opportunity to incarnate our spirituality in a new way today. It is an opportunity for which I give thanks.

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