Fighting the ‘Other Than’ Instinct: Why We Should Let People In

I don’t want to get out of the car to pump the gas. The San Francisco breeze is kicking up, and I left my jacket at home. Pulling into the station, I fixate on my skirt that will surely blow up and all over the place when I open the car door. Anxiety bubbling, I straighten my truck out next to aisle 3 and see him: Window Washer Guy.

I can’t tell if he is homeless or works there. It might be a mixture of both. Scruffy faced and holding the washer squeegee in the air, he smiles and waits in front of my car.

I stare at him through the windshield. He looks kind, but I want to hide. I don’t feel like talking. My windshield doesn’t need to be washed. I don’t know if I have dollars to tip him, and I don’t want to engage. I’m tired and self-centered. I am frozen on the inside, a colossal a-hole.

[RECENT: Mandy Brasher, “Bullying Is Not Just ‘Kids Being Kids'”]

Before I’m out of the car, I’m already saying, “No thank you. I’m fine.” I don’t even give him the chance to ask me. As the words come out, I see he is wearing a shirt displaying the gas station logo. The air is cold, and so am I.

Wind whips my hair in every direction as I watch him walk away, his smile still plastered perfectly across sunburned cheeks. My heart sinks low. Why do I do this? Why do I isolate even in broad daylight? Why couldn’t I have let him in for one second? I vowed to be friendlier in 2014, and I’d already failed myself.

“Wait! I yell through a mouth full of hair. “I would actually love for you to wash my window!” And there it was, my turn around. Sometimes it really isn’t too late to be who we want to be.

[SEE MORE: Tara Eisenhard, “5 Ways to Love Your Alone Time”]

Window Washer Guy pivoted back, unfazed by my initial snub. He got right to work and asked me about my day. While I pumped with one hand and managed my skirt and hair with the other, we talked about our lives.

He told me about his kids in Minnesota, and I listened. Surviving a winter a thousand times more brutal than ours, his adult children were apparently colder than us, and struggling to pay their mortgage. While he meticulously cleaned every inch of my windshield, Window Washer Guy became more tangible to me. He was a real person after all.

As usual, when I took the time to stop and relate, I saw the connectedness and not the “other than.” We are programed unfortunately, to make that distinction simply by looking at someone. I am this way, and he is that way. When I stop that separation in its tracks and engage, I find I am wrong most of the time. We all have stories, no matter how we look, smell, or sound.

While we talked about his freezing kids, and how much he misses them, I felt close to God. Stay with me.

[CHECK OUT: Katie McClain, “Are We Asking Ourselves the Right Kinds of Questions?”]

My understanding of godliness is to connect with other people, be nice to other people, get out of our heads, and listen. Those moments of stopping and relating, of not isolating and doing my best to shut people out, bring me closer to the person I want to be. They also make me feel closer to God, because that it my understanding of what my God wants me to do: be kind, present, and love my window-washing neighbor.

I experience the most joy when I take the time to look another human being in the eyes. When we can pull our heads out of our asses and truly see someone else, even for a second, that is when we put faith into action. That is when I stop feeling like I am too busy, different, and let’s face it, “better than.” I am not better than.  Window Washer guy is me, and I am him in more ways than I am not.

When he finished, I tried to give my new friend some cash, but he refused to take it. Again, all of my preconceived notions of how that situation would play out were wrong. Imagine that.

[READ: Amanda Owen, “Do You Know How to Prioritize Yourself?”]

We can go to church and talk about how “good” we are until we’re blue in the face. But if we then go out into the world with our hand permanently up in front of our faces, blocking people out, then we might actually be full of shit. We can only practice goodness in communion with other people. We can’t do that if we hide and spend too much time inside of our to-do list.

I’ve actually been so buried in that list before that once I paid for gas at the counter and then walked out and drove away without even pumping. True story.

The gas station experience surprised me, and then I guess it didn’t. These moments that teach me things always play out the same; I end up saying, “Oh, yeah. This is what it’s all about.” Then I acknowledge that I already knew. I just forget and need reminders.

Each time I go to get gas at that particular station, I look for him. I’ve never seen him again though. Window Washer Guy said he was saving money to go see his kids and grandkids. I hope he got there. I am grateful for him and the old lesson he retaught me. I will surely need to learn it a hundred more times, and I’m OK with that.


Image Credit: allmygoodness on etsy

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