The Shelter of Each Other

There is a beautiful Irish proverb that states, “It is in the shelter of each other that people live.” Perhaps it takes a superstorm washing away parts of your childhood, a collective of vagabonds and political exiles doing phenomenal relief work, or just a large group hug in the middle of your kitchen to realize what thankfulness really means.

While everyday should be a day of thanksgiving, November’s institutionalized day of thanks creates hyper-awareness and reflection. This year, reflecting on gratitude seems exceptionally poignant and completely necessary.

Less than three weeks ago, my sister and I watched our childhood at the Jersey Shore get washed away. We watched local businesses and landmarks drown on national television. We fretted, we called and texted friends both in New Jersey and throughout New York, and we waited with baited breath for the power to go out, and wondered where we would go from there. While we luckily escaped unscathed in our Brooklyn apartment, others weren’t so lucky. As lower Manhattan was sheathed in darkness, as Breezy Point burned to the ground, as Seaside Heights and Long Beach Island disappeared under the storm surge, we collectively called, we wept, we reflected, we prayed, we donated, we fed, we hoped, and we will rebuild.

It is in the shelter of each other that people live.

This past Sunday, I went on a site visit with a new interfaith collective. The group is called the Evangelism Project because we aim to become transformed or “evangelized” by the other so that we may encounter ourselves and our own spiritual journeys. Our site visit took us to the Manhattan Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to experience a Mormon church meeting.

The meeting featured speakers who emphasized our need to serve each other and to love one another. The last speaker, the Bishop of the Ward, spoke sweetly and earnestly that even if one does not believe the same as Mormons, his church was open and welcoming, desirous of community, and open to serving everyone. Later that afternoon, a group member reflecting on the Bishop’s speech quietly observed, “I was surprised that these folks are more like me than I thought.”

It is in the shelter of each other that people live.

The aim of interfaith dialogue and the aim of service is not dissimilar. Often they are paired together for this reason. We are here to be a shelter for one another, to carry each other’s burdens, to, to borrow a Bible verse used in Sunday’s service, “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8).

We are all here together now, not for the purposes of changing each other’s life views to be like our own, but to be inspired by each other’s life views to understand our own better, and to place them aside when need be  in order to work together in our common humanity. President John F. Kennedy said it best in a 1963 speech at American University: “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

November of 2012 began with tragedy, but continuously fills with hope. Hope that feeds those who have been displaced, allows faith groups to engage in transformative dialogue, and leaves us feeling more grateful each day as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches. Today, I offer no historical analysis, no political observations, and no philosophical ideas. Today, I just say thank you. Thank you to the communities who have sheltered me, those who continue to shelter others in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and other tragedies large and small, to the Irish poet who inspired this reflection, and the Manhattan LDS church for your openness and welcoming graciousness.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine

It is in the shelter of each other that people live.

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