Give me your hand, my brother

It feels good to cast people out. To exclude them. To point out how they may be less than or different. If the focus is on the other’s shortcomings or differences, there’s less attention paid to our own faults. And it’s easier to define a group by those who are rejected, by a shared dislike instead of a shared interest.

On the other hand, it feels infinitely better to welcome someone in.

On Friday nights at MDC, a majority of our group is usually made up of familiar faces. Participants come down from the housing units each week to relax, to think, to close their eyes in a non-hostile atmosphere, and to share what’s on their minds and in their hearts.

In addition to the core group, we usually have a few new people who have heard about the service or whom Zach meets on the housing units or who just needed an opportunity to relax for a little while. Sometimes the newcomers settle right into the meditation and open up during the group discussion. And sometimes it takes a little time to get used to the little pocket of peace in the midst of everything else going on at the jail.

One night recently, we had a mix of new faces and regular participants. As our evening meditation and reflection wrapped up, we stood up and formed our customary circle to conclude with a brief prayer. Everyone shuffled into place and began to join hands, but one newcomer hung back uncertainly.

Throughout the session, there were small signs that issues from the housing unit may have followed our newcomer down to the evening retreat. The signs weren’t dramatic, but it was clear there was anxiety and discomfort.

The gap in the circle slowly began to close as the group’s routine kicked in to smooth over the moment of awkwardness. But before it did, Andre, a calm, insightful, joyful regular of our Friday night meetings, walked across the room from his previous spot, gently took the hand of the newcomer, and turned to complete the circle. The group settled in and we finished the evening in peace.

Andre hardly walked ten feet. There was no bravado or pride in his gesture. It was a short moment that lasted only a few seconds. You could have almost missed it.

But it had an impact. On our newcomer and everyone else in the group.

“Give me your hand, my brother.” It’s easy to let those outside of our circles stay there. Their exclusion enforces our feeling of belonging. In truth, though, the bond is infinitely stronger when our shared identity is based on inclusion and acceptance.

It can feel like a monumental task to reach out, but it’s extraordinarily easy. And it makes all the difference.