“I want to give you a hug because my son’s a minister (like you),” said a elderly woman with a red hat as she put her arm around me. K.J. and I visited a senior center which meets in The Way of Life Community Church on Tuesday morning. We were there simply to hang out with the seniors and hear their stories. However, we were asked to share our stories with the group of elderly, Southern folk. They laughed at K.J.’s examples of Pittsburgh slang, and they were interested in offering some of their own Mobile “talk.” I’m never too sure how to relate to senior citizens. They are often interested in my nationality–why my last name is Irish, first name is Welsh, but I look more Italian than anything–or sharing stories with me about the way the neighborhood was (beautiful, wonderful, streets of gold) and what it is like now (rough, crime-filled, broken down). So, I wasn’t so sure how this would turn out, but I have to say…getting a hug was a way of being welcomed into their group.
Looking back, I realize what the problem was. The problem was me. I came in with an attitude of how do I (the superior, know-it-all) interact with the senior citizen. I was trying to relate to them so that they could come to where I am, but, instead, they invited me to where they are. I had to be accepted. I wasn’t do the accepting. They were accepting me. The proper response from an outsider like me to a hug from someone from within the group is, “I could sure use one.” Because I did.
Much of our day was spent touring the Mobile area. Our fearless leader Pheng (misspelled his name in my last post) took us to a local Laotian Buddhist temple. The temple took me by surprise since it was outside but was open, in that, it had no walls enclosing the artifacts. The monk came out to meet us, and K.J. and I were able to ask him questions while Pheng translated. I remember I asked the question, “What would you tell someone as to why they should become Buddhist?” The monk responded that they do not ask someone to become Buddhist–one becomes Buddhist if he or she desires it, but other Buddhists do not seek to “evangelize.” I found this strange and confirmed my prior thoughts that Buddhism is the ultimate postmodern religion (in this sense and others). As we left, I asked Pheng if he ever told the monk we were Christians. He said he did not, but the monk probably realized. I asked him how he could be sure. Pheng told me that my question was a very “Christian” one so the monk could tell. Another cultural error, I suppose. That’s two in one day.
We were able to have some fun that day. We headed to Dauphin Island to the beach to see the Gulf. We took in the white-sand beaches and the warmth of the water. I found a hermit crab walking in the water. Now, as a lifelong Jersey shore guy, I’ve only seen hermit crabs cheap t-shirt stores. I’ve never seen one in the wild.
We decided to “live a little,” and K.J., Pheng, and I all ran and swam in the water with our shorts on. It was a wonderful spontaneous decision, but K.J. and Pheng didn’t have a change of clothes so they drove back to Mobile with soaking wet clothes on. However, it was an excellent bonding experience, and I laugh just thinking about it. Most of this trip is less details oriented than I am comfortable with. I usually like an itinerary in my hand, ready to go. This trip is very relational, flexible, and multidimensional. I would prefer a jam-packed day with details, times, and places to be, but then again I don’t normally swim with my clothes on. Maybe it’s time to be a little more flexible and spontaneous.
This should be a good trip.