Alick asked me to write about the idea of “otherness” that I said made me miss Brazil. The words I jotted down as we spoke were: “otherness” “flow” “celebrity”. These were things that stood out to me about the Brazil experience.
I felt drawn to sit on the landing outside the children’s area at church this morning. As I went – I remembered the last time I sat there, and I recall gaining an insight about birds and how they don’t follow the paths and conventions of human development. They live in a FLOW outside the everyday life of humanity, though they still utilize it’s structures for homes, food, perches etc.
I began to think that perhaps inserting ourselves into another culture, another space, and another geography has a similar impact on us. Because the environment we find ourselves in is so “other”, like birds, we are un-able to use the structures around us for their intended purposes, and instead discover a beautiful, unintended “secret” purpose in the otherwise everyday things around us.
The child squatting outside his ramshackle hut tearing at a piece of bread with his teeth is not simply having breakfast – he is serving as a touch point with humanity.
The shouting and back-slapping at the corner bar serve not as a loud annoyance, but a reminder that I do not let Joy into my life. I scold Joy and keep him in the corner with his face to the wall for being petulant and insubordinate to his big brother named Accomplishment.
Ahh, “Flow”. This poor little child called Joy is much freer to play when his big brother is so disoriented by these strange surroundings. While Accomplishment is busy trying to find his ranking – Joy sneaks out and plays footeball with the other kids. He lies under the strange stars at night, and with great glee, sees the Southern Cross “for the first time” just like David Crosby sang about.
The smell of burning Cashew wood mingling with the dry musk of the soil does not simply tell me that the dry season is coming. It reminds me that I am part of an enormous creation that encompasses thousands of eco-systems, millions of stars and billions of other galaxies. The Atlantic seems saltier than the Pacific – but at least here, it won’t try to kill you for wading in it for 20 minutes.
There are, of course, parallels to all of these structures here at home: The guy with the sign at the freeway off-ramp, the screaming children in that damn Habitrail thing at McDonald’s, and the salty smell of Bull Kelp that comes off Puget Sound when there is a West wind. But those are too familiar. I am too much a part of those structures for them to be anything other than a part of my life. Or could I CHOOSE to see them as more?
The following eyes of the Brazilians lounging on the corner remind me that I am a rare bird in Brazil. I’m a celebrity – flitting from roof top to roof top, learning my lessons, living my life high above their streets and telephone wires. My song must sound as strange to them as theirs does to me. We can live together for a while like this – weeks…maybe months, until time washes the otherness out of us like water and detergent wash a stain out of your shirt – and away it swirls down the drain. Then the flow begins to align with the local flow, which inevitably results in the loss of celebrity because you look just like everyone else, and they look just like you.
There should be a way to ALWAYS live out the otherness of being a citizen of Heaven. We should always look for the “secret” purpose of life’s structures, always able to flow with freedom from accomplishment, and as a result enjoy a certain amount of celebrity as we stand out against the world around us.