Remembering those beside us
By Jessica Brodie So on Saturday I was walking in the forest with a llama (true story) when he started to get a little bit persnickety. In fact, when I glanced over at him, he was cutting his eyes at me, and if I wasn’t mistaken, the look on his face was basically saying, “And I’m supposed to trust you, Lady?”
Let me back up and give some context. See, it was my mom’s birthday, and my sister and I had decided to surprise her with a ladies-only llama trip at a farm somewhere in rural North Carolina. None of us had ever walked a llama before, and we didn’t get a lot of training. But as animal-lovers, we were optimistic. Besides, the llamas were nice creatures and accustomed to doing this. We got a rope and a llama and were instructed to walk along and follow the guide. Easy enough, right?
It was a beautiful early fall day. The sun was glimmering through the trees, the forest smelled lovely and fragrant, and I was plodding along in the fallen leaves tugging my llama, Dough, behind me when it occurred to me to look over at him.
I think it was right about then that I remembered llamas have a reputation for spitting. And, I think, being stubborn.
I cocked my head at Dough, and that’s when I think I really truly looked at him for the first time. Dough was a majestic cream, black, and tan tower of muscle. He didn’t just step across the creeks; he leapt. He was the leader and the largest and, at that moment, just a teensy bit intimidating.
And he didn’t particularly seem to appreciate being tugged along like he had no say in the matter.
I stopped in my tracks then and looked Dough in the eye.
“Hey, buddy, thanks for walking with me,” I said in my calmest, gentlest voice. “You’re being really nice. So we’ll just walk together and I’m going to show you where to go, and it will be safe and fun and I don’t have any intention to hurt you. OK?”
Dough got the gist. And when we paused a mile or so later for snack time, we got to bond! I fed him treats, he nuzzled my fingers, and by the end of the trip we were even sharing some face-to-face time. Apparently these llamas seem to really enjoy when humans blow at their face, and Dough and I had some nice moments. We departed friends that day, Dough and me.
Driving home, it occurred to me that my relationships with others are much the same. Sometimes we plow through life, forgetting for a minute that others are there with us and we’re all in this together. Perhaps we take human company for granted, or we disregard people as though they are not important or not central to the current lesson God is teaching—or not really worth the bother.
But the thing is: people are the “bother.” We are all in this together. Our relationship with our Creator is central; God is Number One. But the second commandment comes next for a reason. Other people are critical to our human existence. We are to love others as ourselves. People matter! Our friends matter and our family, certainly. So do our enemies. And so do perfect strangers. The “least of these”—those who can presumably not offer us anything: the poor, the needy, the orphans, the widows, the prisoners—matter perhaps most of all.
When it gets right down to it, how we relate with (not to) people is at the crux. Humans are inherently flawed. We know God is Number One, and yet sometimes pride gets the better of us, and we want to be top dog. We conveniently, or not so conveniently, forget about God.
But even if we are cognizant and righteous enough to remember to put God first, we invariably forget that people—not ourselves, but other people—are supposed to come next in the pecking order. We can be so self-absorbed. We are hungry, so we think about making ourselves food, or maybe think about making our spouse or our kids food. But what about our neighbors? Or what about when we’re driving to a restaurant and see someone hungry asking for food? Usually we either don’t notice them, or we drive right on by—that’s their problem.
But it’s not just their problem; it’s our problem. Everyone is our problem. We are called to compassion. We are called to trust. We are called to look at, to notice, to remember those who are walking alongside us. When we trust others and when we create spaces for others to trust us, that’s when beautiful moments can happen. That’s when the Holy Spirit can reign.
My llama for the day, Dough, reminded me of that important truth. Today, let’s remember those who walk alongside us.