Towards the end of my agnostic decade, I left New York City and went back to live in the South.
One of my friends there took me to her Pentecostal church.
The kindness of the women at that church staggered me.
When they spoke to me, they saw me. They weren't greeting me out of a sense of duty. They looked at me very closely and with love, understanding me as a separate person arriving at their doorstep with a full history. Each of them saw me as a person just as substantial and three-dimensional as herself.
One of them placed a gentle hand on my shoulder and said with compassion: "There's just something about you...I don't know what it is, but it touches me."
I think this perceptive woman was referring to my spiritual brokenness, which at that point in my life was probably visible to her. I did not try to hide it--I had no one to impress.
It was a shock to be seen after years of living in New York, where people don't see each other even when they are standing shoulder to shoulder on the subway.
When I recall those lovely Pentecostal women, however, I realize that most of us don't really see each other, whether we live in New York City or in the suburban southwest.
When I greet visitors at church and they greet me, at times the social walls are almost palpable. They act exactly as they would if they were being introduced to any other stranger: polished, guarded, and very, very careful not to say anything personal. They could be at any cocktail party or country club. They don't really see other people in their broken humanity; instead, for whatever reason, they're in autopilot mode.
Isn't this a shame?
Wouldn't it be so much better if more churches showed an obvious difference between us and the unfeeling world as soon as people walked through the door?
If more of us saw other people with loving hearts and the desire to understand them, as those Pentecostal women once truly saw me?
Remembering their kindness has inspired me. My prayer is that I will truly see other people when I look at them.