Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 9, 2004
Appearances can be deceiving
Light One Candle
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
My friend Jack is a priest in his sixties. He enjoys frequent visits to New York City. Jack frequents concert halls and museums like no one else I know. He's also practical. He realizes that driving into Manhattan means finding parking and additional expense. So public transportation is his usual means of getting around.
He told me recently of an experience he had on the New York City subway.
When Jack got on, he was one of about a dozen people in the subway car. Shortly thereafter, a man boarded the train who was completely unkempt and talking loudly to himself. He was young man, over six feet tall and, to the folks in the car, he looked intimidating.
Nervous looks were exchanged. At the next station four passengers got off. At the following station another five left. In short order, everyone left the car except Father Jack and the young man.
Jack was disturbed, chastising himself for not wearing his clerical collar, which he thought might have given him a little cushion of safety. The stranger glanced his way. He mumbled a little, growled a little and finally spoke to Jack. "Hey, man, you know what?"
"What?" Jack nervously responded. "Man, you look just like some actor in the movies. What the heck, you know him, but I can't think of his name - in that scary movie about the crazy doctor." To which Jack responded: "You mean the doctor who loved a little Chianti with his fava beans?" Jack had described the Hannibal Lecter character played by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. "Yes, that's the guy. You look exactly like that crazy doc."
And in that moment, the ice was broken. A smile crossed the young man's face. A connection was made. And the unknown suddenly became less frightening. They began to talk about movies. About the theatre. About acting. About life and dreams for life. And when Jack got off the train, they shook hands and wished each other well. Jack recalls thinking as he walked up the subway stairs: "You just never know."
When Father Jack told me about that meeting with the ultimately delightful stranger, he admitted that he'd actually had a number of similar experiences when he's made an immediate judgment about what someone was or was not, only to learn differently. We all make these split-second decisions, filled with certainty that our opinion - or our prejudice - is 100 per cent correct. And as often as not, we're absolutely wrong!
Judging people by external appearance is almost always risky. None of us is simply the sum of our looks, but rather the sum of our hearts, our minds and our souls. And those aren't quickly read.
I remember the time I had the chance to meet Mother Teresa. I was excited for weeks in anticipation. She'd have to be overwhelming, bigger than life. Her insights were sure to be profound.
Yet nothing was what I expected. She was tiny and cast her eyes down in humility. Her words were unpretentious and completely understandable. She wasn't larger than life at all. But she was something much better, the essence of a life lived well with love for others.
She was not what I had expected. But she was everything she should have been.
Father Jack learned that with time, conversation and openness, a person he feared wasn't so fearsome at all. Wouldn't it be great if we could meet everyone the same way? The world would be much more peaceful if we didn't form opinions about people until we knew something of them, of their souls.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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