“How old are you?”
She usually runs most places, as if her intended destination is ephemeral, as if she might miss a second of its treasure if she were to arrive a moment too late. Then, she is off elsewhere. Sometimes there seems to be a randomness to her movements, but always there is an enthusiasm. She exhibits a kinetic intelligence, a knowledge of her own body’s capabilities and its place in the material world. During worship services, she often sways, dances with joy and expressiveness to the church’s music. And she’s good at it because she is four.
Running across our fellowship hall, where our church hosts communal meals and provides meeting space for people to talk after church or between classes, she notices the visitors from a distance. They are small, her size, and they are holding tightly to a parent’s hand. There is no subtlety in her approach. Within seconds she has jumped in front of the oldest.
“How old are you?!” It is barely a question, more of an enthusiastic exclamation. The mother gives the verbal reply, while the quiet girl solemnly holds up four fingers.
“I’m four, too!” she squeals. It is as if she has unearthed a treasure. And she has. She exhibits the beauty of connection. She knows how to seek it out and find it. It is only a matter of coincidence that the running girl and the quiet girl happen to be the same age. I suspect she would have responded with as much joy and elation had the answer been three, or five, or seven. I immediately joked with her mother that I wanted to start introducing myself to new people in the same excited manner. “How old are you?!” There is so much generosity and hospitality in the tone of this question. Under it all is the assertion that we are alike, that we are kindred, that we have a connection.
When we look for human connection, we find it. We find it because this is how we are created. The hospitality of inclusivity is the automatic assumption that there is more to bond us than there is to alienate us.
I probably will not ask people their age, after all. Unfortunately, social expectations prevent me. But, there are certainly comparable questions I could throw out. I need to find the adult equivalent. Something that passes on the same message: We are friends. We are similar. The challenge is to cultivate a generous, hospitable heart which seeks out the common. It ignores the temptation to see only the “other.” It encourages us first to see all that is the same.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:5-7)