Thursday Thealogy: The Distant Other

Trip 2013 571

Pismo Beach picture taken by a distant other!

This month in my Compassion class at OSC we’re looking at concern for the distant other—those not immediately part of our lives. The assignment was to share how we show concern for the distant other and its impact in your life in your awareness and sense of compassion. Since I was on vacation this month, I thought it would be the perfect time to notice opportunities and experiences with the “distant other.” Instead, what I continued to experience was compassion FROM the “distant other” to me and my family—or, rather, had the experience of being the distant other in someone else’s life. I read an article recently about taking the time to “see” others—to look at nametags and to call people by name, etc. Many, many times on this two-week trip, rather than being the one doing the seeing, I saw myself being “seen” by others, rather than me specifically doing the seeing…

The man on the airplane who saw me struggling with my suitcase, laptop bag, and toddler daughter in a carrier and offered to carry my bags to my seat. The other man on the airplane who switched seats so another family could sit with their kids and then shared his M & Ms with my boys. The airline worker who found my sons’ lost ipod and tablet two days after they lost them on the airplane and who tracked me down via phone to return them to me. The Disneyland worker who saw us looking tired and discouraged at a long line for the only ride we hadn’t yet gone on and who offered us a free secret pass to come back in an hour and go straight onto the ride. The shuttle driver who made a stop for us at our hotel, even though it wasn’t technically on her route rather than making us walk from the hotel up the street that was on her route. The flight attendant who saw me sitting with my tired toddler and gave me hot tea, before taking the cart up the aisle to the rest of the plane (I was in the back row and should have been last). The hotel worker who stopped what she was doing and helped me figure out how to print my grandma’s memorial service from the hotel computer. The hotel guest who saw me waiting to print boarding passes and even though she was doing some work of her own, stopped to let me use the computer instead and then sat and waited while I printed my stuff and then went back to her own printing. The couple walking past on the beach who offered to take a group family photo instead of having one person left out as the picture taker. The rental car guy who took the time to give us a map and give verbal directions when we were leaving. The lady at the lunch counter who asked questions about where I was from and what I was doing while I was waiting for my food to be finished and then offered condolences about the death of my grandmother. The man at the airport who moved our carseat through the security line when we were out of hands to move it ourselves. The man checking ID’s at the security checkpoint who told me happy birthday when he noticed my birthday had been earlier in the month. The man in line at Indiana Jones at Disneyland who told me to never lose my smile because it was so great to see. The teenage girl on the Grizzly River Run ride who offered to let me put my hat under her sweater so it wouldn’t get wet and who then saw me later while I was on the walkway and she was on another ride and waved with a big smile and an, “oh, hi!” like we were old pals.

I know there were many more, but these are the ones that come to mind as I’m typing right now. There is something about traveling with children that puts you into a vulnerable position and rather than being the one who helps the distant other, I found it was much more likely to become the one in the position of needing help or compassion or understanding. These experiences left me with a powerful sense of the inherent goodness of my fellow human beings and a feeling that most people are helpful, nice, compassionate, and want to do the right thing for others, even if they’ll never see each other again.

(**I did later think of one example of my own concern for the distant other that was expressed as I replied to desperate text messages from a breastfeeding mother while in line at Disneyland with my family—that is pretty committed, Molly 🙂 )

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