Posted by: MC | December 3, 2010

Only a Person

Yesterday evening I walked into the little Whole Foods in my neighborhood.  It was actually more like late afternoon on a typically chilly, misty and too-soon-dark December 1 in Oregon.  But, I needed B vitamins and am always looking for a motive to get a bit of walking.

I walked into the warmth of the store, headed toward the supplement area and turned a corner to see an older Tibetan man adorned in saffron robes, a light cape of scarlet and a woven cap.  He was checking out the homeopathics with his smiling  adult granddaughter and a tall white woman glowing beneath a crown of gray hair.

It was the Laughing Lama, a man who has, on two occasions over two years, accepted a kata (long white scarf) from my extended arms only to wrap it lovingly around my neck and invite me to sit next to him as, laughing, he extended his right arm to hug my shoulders.  He is a holy man – a colleague to the Dalai Lama.  His presence alone is healing.  Like all of us, he is only a person.  And like all of us, he is a miracle of recombined … well … stardust and such.

It was Albert Einstein who first let us all in on the fact that matter is neither created nor destroyed but only changes form.  Dalai Lama extended that a bit to comment on the implications of this physical truth with regard to a lifetime – the exquisitely precise and entirely unique combination of matter and circumstance into your life, or mine.

The stories and experiences 100 people shared with me during the 100 interviewing days of EX:Change in early 2009 are only a sampling of each of those entirely unique life experiences.  These stories and their hosts have, in the meantime, become rich and powerful teachers for me, and, if you check the constantly expanding EX:Change website ( they can become teachers for you, too.

One of the main teachings is that there are at least three levels of being happening in any human life at any time.  There is the individual experience, unique in all the world and conveyed in personality, character and circumstance.   In my professional discipline of psychology, focus on the individual is a bit of a fixation.  Sometimes it means we forget to look at the other ways lives express themselves.

For example, part of our individuality arises from and helps to define the groups of which we are a part.  The Lama is a man.  He is Tibetan and older.  He is a grandfather, a holy man, and he shops at little Whole Foods.  He lives in Dharamshala, India and is a frequent visitor to the US.  All of these descriptors connote groups.   All of them help define the life experience of the Lama.

Each of the people I spoke with on the EX:Change trip can be described by her or his groups, too.  Cheri is a 65 year old woman and a resident of Tucson.  She is a mom of adult children.  She is bilingual in English and Spanish.  She is a retired law enforcement officer and a practicing Muslim.  Her ancestry is Euro-American and Iranian.  Allen is a 40ish white man and an elected labor leader for communications workers (the people who take care of the wires and poles and other things that keep us in electricity and phones).  He’s a father of elementary age kids.  He’s a husband and a friend and a resident, born and raised in Asheville, NC.  Of course, I could go on and on.

The point.  Cheri and Allen and the Lama and each of you are significantly affected by the groups of which they and you are a part.  At the same time, each individual has some amount of effect on any group with which (voluntarily or not) she or he is aligned.

Then there’s the third level – the transcendent way in which we are all cut from the same cloth.  The stardust thing.  That fact does not erase individuality or group identity.  None of the three erases the other.  But none exists without the other either, and when I fail to see all three of these aspects in a person, I get lost in thinking I understand them when I probably don’t.

Back in the day there was a slogan made popular by a TV show.  One day a vendor outside the credit union was holding up t-shirts with a cool design and the now-familiar words.  When she saw this, my already cool 7-year-old daughter (who, btw, turns 24 this week à WOW! [note:  That’s MOM upside down]) insisted that she wanted one.  In cubes of red blue and green, the shirt read, “Love see no color.”  We had been talking about those words.  When we got home, she put it on and I took out a black sharpie (Sara loved it when I drew on her clothes…).  Pressing the pen against her puffed out chest, I put a strong line through the word ‘no.’ Then in all capitals, I wrote ‘ALL.’

Maybe the whole thing was a little heady-activist for a 7-year-old, but she seemed pretty clear on what we were doing.  “I see the color, mom,” she said.  “I like it.”

It’s just the truth.  Personhood forever includes ethnic ancestry with all the stories and ways of knowing that go with that.  Personhood forever includes the precision of uniqueness, the society of groups, and the fact of stardust.

Each of us is only a person – and in that, vital and worthy in the flawless unfolding of one moment into the next.  That’s easy to forget.  It’s sometimes difficult to understand.  And whether we remember or not, whether we understand or not, it’s what’s happening.

The constant being change.  The change being constant.


  1. Yay! I love this. I love your writing and am grateful that it, like you, always makes me smile.

    Thanks for your words. Thanks for your guidance. Thanks for being you.

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