Do you see the outlier?

Today I launched into a Neuropsychopharmacology summer school class. Try saying that five times fast! Our professor promised that if any of us could, we’d automatically get a B.

No fresh backpack or clean white sneakers or shiny new lunchbox accompanied me to campus, but those unforgettable first day frenzies still made a brief appearance in my gut. Funny how that happens, even in graduate school.

The class is held at a large university that I had never stepped foot on, and all of my classmates – approximately 10 girls and 1 fellow – are in the upper level stages of the same doctoral program. Upon entering Room 204 this morning, I immediately sensed the cohort camaraderie (probably because a similar bond exists within my own program) and then scanned to see if another non-member was around. Didn’t spot one, so I took a random seat.

Unsurprisingly, the professor kicked off the morning with introductions – name, program, hometown – and thus everyone soon knew that I was an out-of-towner back in my hometown briefly to take a course to transfer back out to my out-of-town master’s degree. (If you nailed the neuropsychopharmacology tongue twister, try that sentence five times fast.) By the end of the icebreaker intros, it was quite clear that I was the solo stranger amongst a pretty tight-knit group.

During the break, not one person said a friendly hello or reached out to me for a quick meet-and-greet. Though thankfully I’m mature enough to not take that personally and instead choose to initiate conversation, it still doesn’t feel good (maybe lonely and anxious are more precise emotional descriptors) to be the unnoticed newbie.

I confess I’m regularly guilty of having my blinders on, probably much more often than I even realize. Congregating with my chums at parties, rather than glancing around to see if anyone’s standing alone. Circling up with friends at church, failing to see the first-time visitor who looks a bit lost.  Migrating towards the faces and places where I feel safely in, rather than actively seeking to include the individual who may feel uneasily out.

God, grant me eyes to see beyond myself and “my group”. May your Spirit increasingly lead me to recognize, value, and include the stranger. Daily remind me to offer comfort and compassion to others through the free gift of welcome, instead of seeking the selfish security that comes with staying surrounded by people I know. Teach me true hospitality. May I reach out to others as warmly and kindly as you continually reach out to me. Use me as an instrument to show others your loving embrace. 

Do you see the outlier?