With the advent of the holiday shopping season, my mail box has become a treasure trove of catalogs. As I stand in the apartment house lobby, I feel compelled to leaf through the pages before chucking them into the bin. Who do these companies think I am? If I were to try to “profile” myself from the selection, I am a cigar-smoking, first-edition-buying, expensive-clothes-wearing, deer-hunting, bike-riding, supporter-of-a-wide-range-of-political-opinions. That would be when I am not traveling to exotic locations, rounding out my wine cellar, or stocking up on varieties of chutney.
How we are viewed by others is a fascinating topic to me. What clues people use to evaluate and judge us, and the conclusions they draw never cease to amaze me. But if the companies who have access to all my purchasing information draw such silly conclusions about me, how wrong am I when I jump to conclusions about others based on a tiny fraction of that information? How little do we truly know the people with whom we interact? If I am a complex, contradictory, incoherent hodgepodge of my choices, history, and ideas, isn’t it safe to bet that the next guy is also? As I spend this season meeting up with not often seen friends and family it is probably a good idea for me to keep this idea somewhere in the front of my brain.
Your meditation reminds me of a commnunity production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company” that I watched last summer. The central character, Robert, was “figured out” by the company he kept. If only he: got married, experienced more or experimented more he could be “complete” at age 30. Robert understood two things: he didn’t know himself fully and he didn’t know the “company” he kept well. Enjoy your Advent pilgrimage, may you understand yourself better.