Stand up, sit down, kneel, sing... despite having no clue what the priest was saying, I knew what to do and when to do it. I knew which prayers to say and I was no less moved by the Consecration of the Host. But I felt this longing to participate in the same way that everyone else was participating. I wanted to be able to respond in the language of the community around me. But I couldn't. I admit it was a little unsettling and my daughter was understandably more unsettled than I. She whispered to me at one point and asked what she should say in response to receiving her ashes or communion. So I whispered back, "Amen is the same."
I thought about every student I had ever had, new to this country and unable to speak the language. I thought about every student I had ever had with a disability, and unable to participate in the same way as his fellow students. As I sat there, completely lost in the language, I gained a new appreciation for the insecurities and disconnectedness that result from their feeling different. But with the wisdom that only many years (well, maybe not THAT many years!) can bring, I was able to see beyond the difference of language and was even more moved by the sameness all around me.
Everything was the same. The joy in the voices of the choir. The clothes that people wore. The smiles. The teenagers getting restless in the pews. The stink eyes and shushing of parents to their children. The tiny girl in pigtails, skipping down the aisle and holding her mother's hand on her way back to her seat. The little old couple and the pure beauty that radiated from their connection after what I assumed to be a lifetime together. It was simply humanity and it was simply beautiful.
It wasn't the experience I expected or hoped for, to not understand a word anyone said that night! But maybe it was the experience I needed. Because it reminds me that whatever our individual beliefs, whatever our political stance, and whatever language we speak, we are all human. Not in every way, but to some degree, whether you want to admit it or not, we are all the same.
My daughter is fiercely opposed to any type of judgmental or rank-type approach to the world, where one person is seen in any way as better than another because of race, religion, intellect, career, gender, personality, style of dress, hair color, or whether they like their steak cooked rare or dead. It's one of the things I love most about her. And I was so thankful for this somewhat uncomfortable experience as another reminder to her (and me) that regardless of our vast differences, on some level, we all speak the same language.