Earlier this week, while changing in the locker room, I heard a guy repeatedly cursing repeatedly and making a barking sound which may have been a laugh. Another guy was on his cell phone calling off work. I thought the first guy was rudely interrupting the second, until I turned around and saw they were the same guy. This man was having a particularly bad flare up of Tourette’s Syndrome, and needed time off. A few minutes later I was on my usual elliptical machine and working out with music pumping into my ear buds. When the first song ended, I could hear the barking sound echoing through the gym. Until that moment I didn’t realize I’d assumed the man would have left the gym because of his flare up, but he’d stayed to work out. If I didn’t know the situation, I would have been irritated by the disruption; I am not patient when people are unnecessarily loud in public spaces. But having information made me sympathetic, and irritation settled into acceptance. Instead of a rush of anger and an internal debate about when to say something, I was able to adapt and accept.
This is not a story of someone’s courageous battle with a disability. That’s not my story to tell. This man could be the nicest guy in the world, a complete jerk, or – most likely – somewhere in the middle with the rest of us. His disability tells me absolutely nothing else about him.
And that raises uncomfortable questions: what if all those people who irritate me, for whatever reason, are suffering from something I don’t know about? What if it’s not their behavior but my attitude that needs to change? I mean, now there’s evidence that it’s possible, so I have to consider it. It could be a hidden disability like Tourette’s or anxiety disorder. It could be a chronically ill child, self-esteem issues, or years of systemic oppression. Whatever the reason, the point is: my desire to judge or exclude them says more about me than them.
In Christ’s day, people would have blamed Tourette’s on demons. Christ freed and healed the demon-possessed. Part of that process, many ancient people believed, was knowing the demon’s name. I can’t name your demons and you can’t name mine if we are more busy judging each other from a distance than getting to know each other. And what better place to get to know each other than around the communion table? It’s no locker room, but it still has some potential. Some who gather there feel vulnerable, intimidated, and spiritually naked. We are all there for the same purpose, but some of us have made better progress than others. Some days we’re just not feeling it. Occasionally we need someone to spot us for the heavy lifting. And in the end we hope to leave in better shape than we arrived. New members are always welcome.
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.