Saturday, June 30, 2012

Thisness or Thatness

            My Merriam-Webster dictionary app featured quiddity as the word of the day yesterday.

            A homeless man yelled at me yesterday afternoon.

            Being the Facebook junkie that I am, I posted status updates about both of these items on my timeline and interesting discussions ensued. 

Part of my status update about quiddity included its definition.  Essentially it means essence.  It is “whatever makes something the type that it is.”  It can also mean oddity or eccentricity.  Posting this definition brought on other definitions which resulted in my reading the word thisness.  Thanks to my friend, Alisa Wilkins Cortez, for sharing that.  As I understand it, it is our thisness that makes us unique.  It distinguishes us from all others.

So even though I was engaged in a variety of activities yesterday; from finishing the worship bulletin, catching up with my friend and music director, Alice, and contemplating my sermon for tomorrow, part of my brain was turning the word thisness over and over.  I was like a dog worrying a bone.  I was in the midst of that worrying wrestling match when the doorbell for the South downstairs door rang.  Putting thisness on hold for a moment, I ran to the South entrance and opened the door to my homeless man.  He looked old, but I’ve learned not to be fooled by appearances.  Life on the streets is not an anti-aging treatment by any means.  He was grizzled and it was obvious that he had been out in the sun and the heat for quite some time. 

He needed help, of course.  He told me had a bike with a little bike trailer on the back that held all of his worldly possessions.  The bike wasn’t with him as it was parked over by the Salvation Army.  He knew he could check-in at the Salvation Army and spend the night, but there was no way to keep an eye on his bike.  If he lost that, he really would lose everything.  He had been going to all of the churches he could find, hoping that someone would put him up in cheap motel (his words) for the night.  That way he could keep his bike safe.

I didn’t have the means to do that for him.  I suspect that I was one of the few people still left at a church on a Hades hot Friday afternoon.  I came up with as many suggestions for him as I could of places to turn to for assistance.  He asked me to call around to some other churches.  I did.  No luck.  I brought him a cup of cold water and offered to let him keep his bicycle at our church so he could stay at the Salvation Army.  That didn’t appeal to him.  I finally said there was nothing else I could do and apologized.  That’s when he yelled.  It wasn’t a personal rant at me.  It was a rant against life and circumstance, and that in a city the size of Shawnee there were no resources to help him.  Nobody cares about homeless people.  Not the city, not the churches.  With a dismissive gesture he walked away and I went back upstairs to my office. 

Okay, I admit it.  I cried.  Not because I was stung by his anger.  I got it.  He’s homeless, for whatever reason.  It’s hellishly hot outside.  He carries everything he owns in a bike trailer behind his bike.  This woman at a church with a job and a car and a home answers the door and doesn’t help

Nor did I cry because I was hurt he didn’t thank me for trying.  I have many failings, but self-righteousness tends not to be one of them.  I didn’t expect great gobs of gratitude for essentially doing nothing but giving the man a drink of water.  I didn’t help him.  What did he have to be grateful for?

I cried because I felt so useless.  I wanted to help.  But I couldn’t.  I didn’t.  There must have been a chink in my get-a-thick-skin-you-can’t-help-everybody armor because his anger pierced it.  I got over it.  It’s a guarantee that other people will show up at the church door looking for help.  Maybe next time I’ll be able to do more, maybe I won’t.  But they’ll keep coming.  Yet this particular encounter hit me.  Once the tears ceased, I started thinking about thisness again.   I had been focused solely on my thisness.  What makes me unique?  Even as I claim the common ground I share with all other humans just in the fact that we all are human, I also want to know if there is something that makes me particularly, specifically, uniquely me. 

In one of the many musings on my post about quiddity, another friend, Shannon Miller Ward, commented that my thisness must include laughter, fashion sense and storytelling.  I loved that, but I know that other people share those qualities.  So what is my thisness?  I believe it’s there.  I have it.  With all due respect to Buddhism and its idea of no self, I believe others have it too.  That homeless man has his own unique thisness.  My kids do.  The math teacher I feared in fourth grade does.  All you reading this do.  All God’s children have thisness!

Maybe that’s it.  Thisness goes beyond genetics, environment, birth order and Meyers Briggs preferences.  It is more than a personality trait or an odd habit.  It’s more than our circumstances, and it isn’t just a character quirk.  It is something indefinable and inexpressible and more than a little intangible. 

Maybe it’s the place between our soul and the deepest longings of our heart.  Maybe it’s the place where God really dwells.  So often we try to set God up in some rambling heavenly real estate or a celestial crib.  But I wonder if God, however one views God, isn’t really the source of our thisness.  And however idealistic it may seem, if God is the source of our thisness, then shouldn’t we work a little harder at treating one another as if that’s true?  I know, how very aging, flower child, wish I would have been old enough to go to Woodstock wannabe of me.  I guess it’s my thisness rising to the surface. 

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