She was dressed all in black. Her bonnet had side flaps like those put on horses to block their side view. As she briskly turned down the aisle in the store, her cape seemed to fly in an odd fashion. Well, I laughed and said to my wife Katrina, “For some reason that outfit reminds me of Halloween.” Katrina gave me a stern gaze and said, “That’s not nice!”
I defended my behavior with, “It’s funny!” And after a moment, “You know I didn’t mean anything personal about it.” Katrina then replied lovingly, “Honey, it still wasn’t nice.” As we continued our shopping, I thought about her words. It then dawned on me: what if that had been a Buddhist nun in a robe with a shaved head, or a Catholic nun? I’m certain if I’d never seen a traditional nun’s habit with her headdress, wimple, and veil before, I would have found that strange as well. Needless to say, a woman with a shaved head seems strange to most folks in a more conservative part of America, especially if religious customs are not understood. I realized I wouldn’t have had the same reaction to traditions I’m more familiar with.
The more I examined my behavior, the more I discovered a deeply hidden seed of bias that subconsciously said, “You’re not like me. You’re different!” Certainly, appearance-wise we both choose to clothe ourselves based upon our self-image. The wearing of black for many religious people signifies renunciation and commitment to a life of simplicity. I truly get that! It also means that they’ve taken their vows seriously and have committed themselves to a devotional manner of life.
I thought more about it. While I wasn’t wearing black, I too am committed to living more simply. Both Katrina and I have become much more minimalist in our outlook on possessions. Additionally, we’re very dedicated to living highly spiritual lives. Wait a minute! This woman is just like me!
I felt chagrin. Was this right speech on my behalf? Did my jesting have a hidden statement? Was I humorously tearing her down, making her seem “less than”? What was the hidden seed within me that allowed the thought to arise, leading to such verbal expression? Many years ago, I made a personal vow to speak only truth, to speak only that which builds up, to speak only words of healing and encouragement. I vowed to refrain from angry speech, belittling speech, contentious speech, chattering speech, indecent speech, and insulting speech. Right speech, right words, and right actions? Ouch!
What I really wanted to do was find that woman and apologize. Then, it struck me that she would be bewildered at such a gesture. How could she have known I had joked about her attire? But I did, and it bothered me by its deeper implication of bias.
I could see how I violated my own vow of right speech, and I was truly sorry.
Well, as luck would have it, as we were leaving the store, there she was. I looked at her and our eyes met. I smiled at her with all my heart, and she broadly smiled back with a warmth that I could feel. My smile said, “I love the me I see in you, and I’m honored we’re walking the path each in our own way. I love you. May you be forever blessed!”
For on that day, I was the one who was truly blessed by the lady in black!
Reflections from Turtle Lake,
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