present people

here is a short excerpt from a longer piece of work that i am writing

mother teresa famously said that she could see the face of christ reflected in those that she served. she lived in a world where a person may be alive one moment and dead in the next breath. in being present with that person, engaging with who they are, right at that moment (because there may not be another moment), she experienced christ, mediated through that person, unique to that person at that moment.

when someone is suffering, the temptation is to disengage from who that person is at that present moment: to pine for the past moment or to hasten to a future moment, when the person is different, better or simply more like us again. it is tempting to think that our desire is rooted in that person’s best interests – we wish them to be healed, to be happy. all these might come from noble motivations; however they might also be simply a guise in order to avoid the person. to be with someone, to be truly, fully present with them is to know them in their brokenness, even when this is uncomfortable for us. we do this, not so that we can ‘fix’ them, to view them as a project to be completed, or assimilated into normality, but just to be with them, at that present moment. it is the difference between perceiving them as a problem, or as a mystery to be caught up in. if we are caught up in pursuing a future goal for that person, one where they are essentially a different person than the one that we are presented with, then we miss the point, we miss the person.

if we find our own personhood in relation to other persons, then this tendency is detrimental to us as individual persons and as persons in community. for we, ourselves, are present persons: we do not live in the past, nor in the future, we only have our being in the present moment. therefore, to refuse to encounter other persons in their present moment, even when that moment includes suffering, is to remove our own person from the present moment. we end up trying to live in a moment that does not exist, a quasi-utopia. both the person who is excluded from ‘normal’ society because of their suffering, and that society itself, suffer for that exclusion.

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