The Story of the Other
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My friend Roger and I were at the gym attempting to fulfill our New Year’s Promises, namely ones involving carrying less fat around the chin area. We occasionally chit-chat, though not always. I’d been in the treadmill zone for about ten minutes when he said, “So, Midgie is going to be speaking on Sunday.” (Midgie is a mutual friend of ours who is as fun and interesting as her name sounds, and in the interest of full disclosure, someone that both Roger and I have made love to, but not at the same time to the best of my knowledge.)
“Oh yeah?” I said, not wanting to risk talking too much and pass out.
“Yeah,” he said, briskly walking on the treadmill next to me. “Although… she’s going to be speaking at a church service. The thing is, it’s not even some religion. It’s like some spiritual group. But they call it church anyway.”
I pressed the button to slow my treadmill down, in order to talk without wheezing. “Don’t all spiritual groups call Sunday gatherings ‘church’?” I said.
“Well, they shouldn’t,” he said. “Why do they have to call it church? Couldn’t they call it a lecture series?”
I looked at him, wondering what the heck he was talking about. So I said: “Roger, just want in the heck are you talking about?”
He sighed. “I want to go listen to her,” he said. “She’s got a great topic she’s talking about, but I don’t want to go to something that’s called ‘church’. I have a lot of negative associations with that word. Why do they have to call it church?” The last sentence he seemed to mumble to himself, and he increased the velocity on his treadmill, so I did the same, wondering what the heck Roger’s deal was, and also wondering what Midgie would be doing after church, if you know what I mean. If you don’t know what I mean, I mean I was wondering if she might be available for sex.
We were in the weight room before the topic picked back up again. “Look,” said Roger. “If you were trying to do something that was different from organized religion, why would you borrow their traditions?”
I realized I couldn’t ignore Roger’s problem any more. Since we were weight-lifting buddies, he had suddenly made it my problem. I dropped the weight on the stack, feeling the bulge of my pectorals through my shirt.
“Roger,” I said, “let me stop you while you’re ahead. First, your problem is that you want to make your problems into other people’s problems. They’re not calling this Sunday service or whatever it is ‘Ritualistic Human Sacrifice’ or ‘The Crusades’ or ‘Holocaust Denial Celebration’. If you have a negative reaction to something that’s fairly generic, it’s not their job to make it okay for you. You’re not obligated to go, so they’re not obligated to make it more neutral for you. If church is something you don’t want to go to, don’t go.”
“But I want to listen to Midgie,” he said, looking like a downcast five-year-old.
“Then go. Do you have to perform some ritual in order to enter the building?” I said, ready to slap this guy in the face.
“No,” said Roger. “I’m sorry, Dr. Matt, I don’t know what my hang-up is.” We made our way over to the Gravitron machine, which if you don’t know, is a machine that balances your mass so that you can easily pull up and down. Midgie has a device built on the same concept in her bedroom.
As I was spotting him, I said, “Your hang up, Roger, is that you worry how you’ll be perceived.”
He frowned again. “What? No. If anything, my hang up is around anything related to religion,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “But why does it matter? You could just be walking into a building. In fact, I guarantee you that you had have no problem walking into a beautiful historical Catholic cathedral, no matter what you thought of the pope. If you were there for the architecture, you wouldn’t give a rat’s behind what religion built it. The difference is that at this Sunday service, you know people will see you. They’ll see you and assume that you’re one of them.”
He pulled himself up a number of reps, listening. I took his silence as agreement and continued: “Roger, everyone you meet has a story about you, and you know what? Every one of those stories is wrong in some way. And if you’re meeting someone for the first time, they might get that story very wrong. But you can’t try to go around controlling what that story is for everyone, because it’s ultimately up to them. The best thing you can do is be who you are.” I assisted him in lowering the stack, and we paused for a second. “Listen,” I said, “don’t you have a pretty high opinion of Midgie?”
“Of course,” said Roger. “She’s one of the greatest people I know.”
“Absolutely,” I said. “She is extremely versatile in everything she does. And fun.”
“Lots of fun,” he said.
“Extremely pleasurable to be around,” I said.
“There is no one who gives greater pleasure,” he said.
“Right,” I said. “And she’s speaking at this thing called ‘church’. But I bet your story of her hasn’t changed.”
“Certainly not for the worse,” he said, smiling.
“Exactly,” I said. “People believe a lot of different things, about the nature of their reality, their purpose in life, or if they believe they have purpose at all. But they stay who they are. Your perception of them is not based that much on what they do or what they believe. Or if it is, your story is not likely to be that accurate.”
“That’s true,” he said.
“Here’s the real kicker,” I said. “What if someone else had dragged you to a church service, and you met Midgie for the first time? What if you found out she went to church all the time?”
Roger looked at me sheepishly. “I probably wouldn’t think much of her,” he said.
I nodded. “And think of everything you might have missed out on, because of that one little judgment. You would have told a story about her that served your judgment, but not the truth. Just like you’re already telling a story about those people on Sunday, and the people who made this event in the first place.” I winked at him. “Aren’t you curious to find out how wrong you are?”
He laughed at me, and wouldn’t you know it, he in fact went to that event called church. I didn’t personally go because I find church services extremely boring, but wouldn’t you know it, Midgie was indeed available later that evening, and some the next morning.
We could all learn a little from Roger, and a lot more from Midgie, once she gets going.
Just My Thoughts,
*Dr. Matt is not a real doctor.