Yesterday as I was on the return leg of my morning walk, in and among the students hurrying to class at American University, I saw an elderly woman. I noticed she had on a heavy sweater, as well as a coat and a rain coat – much too much for our unusually spring like day. Her white hair was escaping from the tightly tied scarf around her head and was blowing across her face in the gentle breeze . She walked right up to me and put one hand on my arm to stop me while she managed her escaping hair with the other one. I thought she was going to ask me for directions, but she leaned close and whispered to me instead, “Borders, language, culture! We have to be in the middle to know someone’s boundaries.” It was as if she were sharing with me the secrets of the universe or the secret to world peace. She repeated the phrase again, lest I should ever forget it, squeezed my arm in some kind of symbol of importance and then went on her way.
I reflected that I was walking past the School of International Relations and she just might be some brilliant mind who was on her way to lecture. But, what could her secret possibly mean? Perhaps it was just some wild rambling. But I continued to think about it all day.
What does it mean to be in the middle of “borders?” Or, in the middle of “language?” I can guess that being in the middle of culture might put one in a spot of relative safety as one wouldn’t be to the “right” or “left” of any particular thought or action. But how would such a stance allow us to know someone else’s boundaries?
It’s a conundrum. Yet, as I’ve reflected, I have thought about how certain we tend to think we are, without regard to another point of view or experience. So, perhaps being “in the middle” gives us the possibility of opening ourselves to another’s outlook, or experience, or “borders, language, or culture.” Maybe it’s a start. Maybe it is the secret to world peace!
A graced moment from a woman who looked to be too out of place to be listened to. But her words remain with me still.