Americans, Belgians, French, Dutch, British, Scottish, Irish, Slovak, Polish, Ukrainian, Spanish, Italian, Indian, Hungarian, the list goes on and on. The Nachbar Huis in Leuven houses many of the above nationalities and there are others that I have met in my travels throughout Belgium and Europe.
I’ve seen men, women and children of all different races, religions and creeds. Some have glowing concepts of other nations–in and out of Europe–and others make one another the butt of jokes. Some say hello, others ciao, or hallo, or hola, or goed dag. The sounds, syllables and diverse articulations of the countless muscles in the mouth and tongue all differ, but the meaning is the same.
Whatever the language, nation, or culture we’re not so different. We laugh and we cry, we hug and shake hands, we eat and sweat. Each of us has our preconceived notions of one another and our traditions, but we overlook our unconditional, universal similarities. There is nothing truly different about us other than what part of creation we grew up in, what words became a part of our vocabulary.
At the most fundamental core of being human there is community. That is what the Nachbar Huis is. Others have lived here before us and more will live here after us. We study, we play, we rest, and we pray–all the same, all differently. Some walls are built to separate, but not these. These walls bind; these walls protect. One day, sooner for some, we will find our ways back to where we first walked, where we spoke our first words, where we had our first kiss. We will be different upon our return. We will be more.
We have mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. We have friends. We have a history and we have a future, and here is where we learn about our present. Here is where we glimpse the mistakes and glories of our past and envision the men and women of our future.
Miles, oceans and mountains separate us from our homes and our families. Each and every day we dream of the places we’ve been and the places we’ll go. The traditions that we’ve learned have come with us to distant shores and we’ve returned from travels with traditions renewed. We are never far from our homes as we champion the lessons of our nations and cultures upon the foreign earth of new places.
We are people, each of us. None can deny. The ambiguity and idiosyncratic complexities of countless encounters, experiences, people and places have imprinted our persons with an undying mark. It moves and it lives and dances in the ever-changing and growing tattoo of life.
Coming and going, we pass faces of voices we may never hear. A smarter man than I may ever be once said that strangers are just friends that we haven’t met yet–a grandfather to his curious grandson as they exited a public bus in far away Hillsboro, Oregon. His years and his life told that man never to count anyone out. Insofar as we are human, we are friends. Our voices high and low, our bodies tall and short, our eyes bright and wide, our feet walking and our minds dreaming–we are each other.
Yesterday, today, and tomorrow I will have been, am, and will be in the same place, but I will not have been, am not, nor will I be the same person. While my face or voice may never change, the life I’ve led, lead and will lead will constantly change as men and women pass through the doorway of my existence.
There is no greater hope that I possess than the hope that we might return to one another the gifts that we receive from the mere presence of humanity’s togetherness. While we must do no more than exist in order to contribute in some way to the great collection of humanity’s history, we must do so much in order to change its future.
There is no greater gift that a person can give than their time–a moment to speak, a moment to listen, a moment to wait, a moment to embrace, a moment to remember, a moment to love. After all, our lives are simply a string of moments passing out of one and into another. Transferring with them our hopes and fears, joys and deafeats, loves and hates.
We can ask nothing of each other but to accept the responsibility of being. To be human is to be an interactive and responsive member of the greatest family to ever exist. There is no “other” in humanity. All is one sameness; though parted in its unique diversity, it is joined in its great simple “is.”
We are to one another what the miniscule molecules, atoms and cells are to our anatomy–a wonderful and unimaginable oneness when seen as a whole and a provocative and unmistakeable diversity when seen in singular parts. Still the two, one and many, cannot be separated. They are, in their romantic paradox, heads and tails of a flipping coin falling through the perplexities of the universe.
We can only hope to embrace this diverse singularity. Only hope to create and foster in one another a love of the life we are so privileged to lead. There is no greater task. No simpler answer.