OK, maybe not “stare,” but in her 2004 audio book, “Getting Unstuck: Breaking Your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality,” she suggests an exercise she calls “Just Like Me.” She recommends the exercise as a way seeing the nameless blurry people we often encounter in our busy world.
Chodron runs a Buddhist Abby in Nova Scotia. I tried her exercise last week after talking to an airport gate agent about a boarding pass.
I must have been the fifth person who approached his desk without first being summoned.
“Did I call your name, sir?” he asked in that tone that demotes “sir” to a mental patient.
Meekly, I suggested I was looking for my first-class upgrade.
His eyes shot to his countertop and his arm sprung up holding my upgraded boarding pass. I grabbed the pass and stepped back, but not before the next passenger asked the same question and was turned away with the same negative glare.
Thirty minutes later, the agent boarded my flight and clicked on the PA system to express his appreciation to us for flying with his employer’s airline. His face smiled, but his flat tone told me his soul was in severe disagreement.
As he made his exit, I heard him tell a flight attendant that he’d been blasted by a passenger for something that “was beyond his control.”
As he closed the door, I closed my eyes.
“God, help me to see this man as someone like me.” I paused, waiting for some word.
Just then my oldest daughter came to my mind, the same one who escorted me to my gate wearing the uniform of a competing airline. On the way to the airport she shared with me her struggles to maintain her values in the corporate environment. She feels caught up in the rush of the “me-first” travel world. She wants to give something back to her world, and she’s not finding where she fits in.
“God, this man is like my daughter, and therefore he’s just like me. Chodron was right. This was a man who simply wants to be free from worry and depression. He wants to find comfort in his life and be respected and loved. Help him find significance.”
I can’t tell you how my prayer affected this man, but I can tell you how it affected me. Like a man waking up to the overwhelming aroma of a good breakfast, my prayer awakened me to the aroma of human life around me. I noticed how many others were just like me.
I noticed my seatmate anxiously tapping his foot the way I do when I’m worried about missing a connecting flight. I noticed the flight attendant’s smile and I noticed the relief of the woman who found her lost purse. All the emotions I experience were all around me in abundance: anxiety, joy and gratitude.
No, I’m not saying all these things happened because God answered my prayer for a stranger. I’m saying I saw all these things because God showed me a stranger just like me.
This week, I urge you to take Chodron’s challenge. Look at people wherever they are — in traffic jams, in doctor’s offices or in line to buy a burger.
Ask God to help you see them as people just like you. My guess is looking at people in such a manner will bring them into focus as real people and the race we live from day-to-day will become much less a race and much more of a life.