So if you're walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes,
Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello."
(John Prine, Hello in There)
If you look closely, they always seem to be there . . . in the peripheral vision . . . in the shadows. One moment you see, the next you don’t . . . but they are there . . . dancing in the dark . . . always in the shadows. They are the people that don’t fit in . . . those with mental illness, disabilities . . . those who are different from the rest of us . . . those who talk too much, laugh too loud, look funny . . . those who are who are not in the groups we run around with . . . those who are too old . . . different races, genders . . . the poor, the illiterate . . . those who don’t speak our language . . . they are there in the shadows, dancing and longing to be invited into the light of the dance floor.
This past weekend, at the wedding I attended, I accidently saw them at the wedding dance . . . in the shadows. There they were . . . swaying to the music . . . nodding their heads to the rhythm of the beat . . . longing, always longing to be included. In the pulsing music and lights, I stared . . . they were faces I recognized, people I knew . . . and, then, like a deer caught in headlights, they were gone. Lost in the darkness that surrounds the shadows . . . only to appear again, in the shadows, on the other side of the dance floor. Despite the joy of the celebration, my heart was sad . . .
One, lost in the throes of a battle with depression, was someone I knew well . . . often spoke to . . . a nice, talented guy having a tough time with his life . . . dancing and darting around in the shadows. The other, has one of those disabilities that effect his ability to understand the mores of social behavior . . . the sort of guy who tells way too many stories, laughs too loud, and never knows when to be quiet . . . kind of goofy . . . going through difficult times in his own life . . . a pretty nice guy . . . dancing and darting around in the shadows. And, they were not the only ones . . . there were others . . . male and female . . . the wallflowers . . . the dreamers . . .the ostracized . . . those on the outside looking in. There they stood . . . longing, longing to be including in the dance of life that the rest of us were enjoying.
Those who dance in the shadows are all around us in our daily lives. They are in the places where we work . . . you can see them . . . they stand on the edge of the group . . . hang back of the group, never quite walking with everyone else, always a few steps behind . . . always laughing a second too late. They are in the places where we play . . . the places where we worship even. Always on the outside, always looking in, always longing to belong . . . to be a part of the group . . . dancing in the shadows.
My sadness did not come from the fact that there were those at the wedding dance who were dancing in the shadows, but because I knew these people . . . they were friends, they were family . . . and, until that moment I was not even aware of their presence. They were in the shadows . . . dancing . . . people I love. I was so wrapped up in my world I couldn’t even see those who longed to be included . . . who wanted to come and be a part of the dance . . . the dance of life. In that moment that I caught them in the shadows dancing . . . caught them in my vision . . . my heart was broken. I should have stopped . . . and said, “Hello in there” . . . but, I didn’t.
Most of us probably never would. We would avert our eyes . . . cross to the other side of the street . . . ignore and deny. I think that I know what I am talking about because we all do it . . . every day, we do it. We pass the hitchhiker on the side of the road . . . we walk pass the person with the sign begging for money . . . we ignore the person limping . . . we those lonely eyes . . . because we do not want to get involved. We don’t want the hassle. We don’t want to ruin a good thing that we have going on. We all do it, even the best of us who try real hard to be inclusive of everyone . . . our talk is usually better than our walk. We ignore the dancing that is going on in the shadows of our lives . . . we never stop to say, “Hello in there.”
We should all be sad . . . our hearts should be broken . . . there are those who are not being included for whatever reasons we want to name. There are those not being allowed to gather at the table . . . those who are not being allowed to dance . . . those who are never, ever, invited in. Intentionally or not, we are all a part of the problem.
This is a sin. Plain and simple, known or unknown to us, it is a sin to exclude anyone from life . . . from the table . . . from the dance. Each and every person is created in the image of God the scriptures tell us . . . in the image of God we were all created. In others is the image of God . . . to separate ourselves from God is a sin. When we allow those to dance in the shadows, we ignore the presence of God.
Jesus taught that we are to love God—completely with our whole being. Jesus also taught us that we are to love our neighbors . . . and, surprisingly, everyone is our neighbor. What does that say about us when we do not invite those who are in the shadows dancing to the dance? That is where the sadness in my heart comes . . .
I need to learn to say, “Hello in there” more often . . . to invite those who are in the shadows to come and join the dance . . . pull up a chair at the table . . . to lift the cup and break the bread . . . to truly welcome everyone in. I have been in the shadows and it sucks . . . God wants us to all be a part of the dance. It doesn’t matter how poorly you dance, God wants you to dance. God wants us all to be family.