Not just a dot
My brother and sister-in-law are ultra-cyclists. They ride in long-distance self-supported races around the world with their bikes carrying everything they need. While they ride these races, cycling for twenty-some hours a day, the rest of us watch their dots. They ride with trackers which are reported on a map, like this one, so anyone can track their progress and follow the leaderboard.
My brother is currently riding down the coast of California, The Pacific Coast Bike Race, 1500 miles, from Portland to San Diego. And I am obsessively watching his dot, cheering him on from thousands of miles away. But my knowledge of how Brent is doing is limited. His rare stopping time is not wasted on texting his sister, but on getting food and filling water bottles. I know where he is, but not what songs are running through his head or which muscles ache. I just have a dot. A dot I follow, pray for, and for which I am enormously proud.
As I watch my brother’s dot, I thought about how our encounters with others generally give us as little information as that dot. We know their location and a few things we can assume about their appearance or their demeanor, but we don’t know the stories running through their head or if their heart is aching. We don’t know the battles they fight or the worries they carry. We are so much more than a dot on a map, have so many more stories to us than the singular one that gets presented. We are complex intersections of identities, a mix of joys and sorrows.
There’s a compassion and a humility that comes when we see people as more than just a dot, more than just our first assumptions. Our ability to see people as beautifully complex informs not just how we treat people when we are with them, but how we respond to headlines and issues around us. Issues, after all, are about people, so much more than hashtags or ideologies.
The refugee crisis is not just a mass of dots on a map fleeing war, but people with hopes and fears. Women seeking access to healthcare have complicated stories that could never fit on a billboard. Families lining up at food pantries have challenges and gifts more varied than the many brands of cereal given away. People with opposing views from ours will surprise us when we listen long enough to discover common ground.
I cheer for my brother’s dot, trusting that someday I’ll hear my brother’s stories. But that dot reminds me to listen for the stories that complicate those first impressions of people I meet and the issues we face. With this sort of curiosity and courage, we can act with compassion and humility as we address problems and work together on issues that matter. Those issues, after all, are about people. People who bear the image of Christ, whom God has given us to love, and with whom we get to work to build a world where all of us dots can thrive.