Yesterday I had to run up to the Home Despot to meet my Sifu and hand off some sashes that he needed to give to some students of mine who are transferring over to his class due to a scheduling conflict.
The Home Despot is near his work, and I had to pick up some mulch.
After handing off the sashes, I wandered into the Home Despot and found the piles of cedar mulch. Naturally, the brand I wanted was behind a pile of other stuff, so it was awkward, but I was managing just fine. I was loading the two cu.ft. bags onto a flat-bed push-cart when I heard:
“Hey! Can I give you a hand with that?”
I looked up, and there was a guy with a silver ear-hoop, a buzz cut, and one of the most spectacular tattoos I’ve seen in a while. The tat was a reproduced photograph of a little Chinese kid surrounded by wood grain, and illuminated by gothic script, which I couldn’t read, ‘cause the guy’s arm kept moving while he ignored my assertion that I was doing fine on my own, and pushed past me to begin loading the bags.
“Nice tat”, I said, “Is that of anyone in particular?”
“Yes. It’s a kid I met while I was on a mission trip to China helping out a missionary running an orphanage over there.”
“Oh. He must be pretty special.”
“Yeah, he was. You know, all those kids were damaged some way. I wasn’t comfortable around them. I’m not proud to say it, but I wondered, ‘where are all the normal kids, why can’t I work with them? This kid just came up to me the first day and plopped himself down on my lap, and I was like ‘OK, little dude, you’re cool. He was my little buddy the whole time I was there. I just loved him so much.”
“That’s really great,” I said…figuring the story was over.
He continued, “Before we left, the missionary went through and told me about the kids, told me their stories, and why they were at the orphanage. Then he got to my kid, and told me that he’d been born with both male and female parts. Wow, that was tough, you know, dealing with that. But God had already worked in my heart by that point, and it didn’t matter.”
“That’s a cool story, thanks for telling me.”
“Yeah, that’s why the Bible verse here.” He pointed to the script, which I still couldn’t read.
I thought it was a great story. You know, a lot of people don’t believe that they need God to work in their heart to avoid judgment and express compassion for others. But a lot of people do. And my feeling is, if you feel that's what you need to make yourself better personally, you go with your bad self. Do what you have to do, just get there. I don't care if you think you need to wear a watermelon on your head to help you be a better human being. If it works for you, great. I will bring you fresh watermelons every day to help you. Just don't try to force one onto my head, and don't turn the term "watermelonless" into a slur. We'll be cool.
And this man was great, he wasn’t telling me that without religion, I was going to hell. He wasn’t telling me that without religion I’m incapable of love and compassion (or that while I might be able to have love and compassion, it is meaningless without a “foundation”.)
He was telling me about his personal and meaningful story about how he personally won a victory over judgment, narrow-mindedness, and bigotry…and how the reward was a richer, more loving life.
And it made my day, and quite possibly my life better.
(disclaimer: please realize that this conversation is recounted from memory, so the words in quotes are not direct quotes, but my best recollection of the conversation)