Inclusion and Candy

Matt - Chicago, Illinois
Entered on July 30, 2008

I believe in sameness.

I believe in the power that recognizing the sameness between myself and others gives me to show love. My desire to articulate this statement was sparked recently when I was among some young writers talking with an older one about Walt Whitman. A girl asked how she, a twenty-first century Christian suburbanite, could relate to Whitman, a nineteenth century atheistic homosexual. “By realizing how you are the same,” he said.

Awhile back I decided to attend an anti-war march in Chicago where I live. Having never attended any event of that sort and, as it happened, having to go alone, I got on the train that morning feeling somewhat apprehensive.

As soon as I sat down in the Saturday morning crowd, the girl directly in front of me, clad in a spray-painted red wig and too-big shoes with no socks, turned around and asked, “You want some candy?” Having been thinking lately about trying to be a more loving person, I smiled and said that I did.

We began to talk. I told her about the protest; she told me that she did not remember going the night before to the part of town we were now leaving. When I asked if it had been a crazy night, she informed me that she had been with some friends smoking crack. When I asked a bit later if she was a student or where she worked, she told me, with sincerity and no desire to defend, that she was a stripper. Despite the experiential distance between those revelations and my own life, I did not flinch.

The woman across the aisle did. And when I continued to engage the red-haired girl, the woman gave us both a generously apparent stare of disapproval.

My red-haired friend then mentioned that the just-passed summer had been good for her because it was the first summer she was financially independent. It had been the same for me, and we were quickly discussing the joys of a first-time renter in this city, everything from bad sinks to dishonest landlords. We talked about crime in our respective parts of town, and about how many of the generally considered more well-off people on north side could really stand to be nicer.

By the time my glance made it back to the woman across the aisle, laughter about late rent and short-tempered coffee shop employees caused me only to smile at her look of advanced disgust.

For a very long time, I have not felt more present as a participant in this world than when I chose to be an active participant in that conversation. I allowed myself to this girl’s level, and she allowed herself to mine. The stark contrast of disapproval from across the aisle only made our experience more clear. The woman was choosing to dole out otherness. We chose inclusion, and candy. And when I descended the stairs of my arrival platform I realized: we had loved each other.