My Uncle Bill died at the ripe age of 92 in physical pain, mental alertness, and spiritual security. He was considered by many to be a giant of a human being. Shortly before he died, circumstances brought me alone to his bedside where I took the opportunity to seek the wisdom carried by one who had lived long and learned well along the way.
Sitting by my Uncle Bill, I asked him, “What do you regret the most in your life?” His eyes turned reflectively inward as he answered, “I grew up in a community of immigrants from four different countries, all speaking their native language and living out their unique customs. In all the opportunity there was for me to play with children who had come from a country different than my own, I chose instead to play with the German boys because that was what I knew. I could have learned new words, played new games, tasted different food, and made new friends, but I chose to stay ‘with my own kind’. I regret to this day that I missed out on so much.”
It’s hard to convey the tangible heaviness in Uncle Bill’s voice as he spoke; it’s also hard to convey my own surprise that in 92 years of living this would be his biggest regret. But I witnessed the cost to my uncle and I am witnessing it today in a world that seems bent on defending what is familiar and attacking what is different. The resulting wars and suffering speak for themselves.
It is risky to reach across the boundary of difference because difference always carries an unknown outcome, and for whatever reason, unknown outcomes seem to frighten us. It is risky to step out of the circle of familiarity and extend an invitation of friendship. Fear and blame come so much easier for us.
In a world of growing polarities where each group is clinging to its own familiarity, my Uncle Bill’s words still live. They invite us to take the risk and the opportunity to “play with others”.