Privacy is Pricey

Five days late, I finally did it. After days of “shoulda, coulda, woulda,” I made my way across the lawn and approached the front door. And really, the delay should be understandable. Life is busy for us, even hectic, on some days. But one more news story and a flash of memory forced me to make some breathing room so that I could do what was really needed to connect.

The next door neighbor is a Filipino lady. She’s very nice, kind to our kids, committed to her garden and family who gather there regularly. But I hadn’t seen her over the last few days. After that typhoon five days before, things seemed a bit too quiet. So, approaching the front door was the right thing to do.

She was surprised to see me. We haven’t had more than a few superficial conversations, mostly as we come and go from the house. So when I asked about her family in the Philippines, she exhaled deeply and smiled. “Yes, I have heard from them. My parents, my family is all right. My sister lives in that area in the middle that was hit, but on the other side. There are some cousins we don’t know about yet. We still hope, and we still pray.” She sighed, and smiled again, with tears in her eyes. “Thank you for your concern. Thank you for caring about us. It means so much.”

We continued to talk for another half hour. She has memories of other typhoons from her growing-up years. Once neighbors and all of their livestock died when the water reached nearly reached the third story  of their house. “But there is nothing in my memory like this one. No storm where 10,000 people…” She trailed off for a time, gazing out into the yard.

I’m glad I went. After interacting with literally hundreds of international students and immigrants of all kinds over the years, I’ve heard about American friendliness being shallow at least dozens of times, and how our need for privacy inhibits real relationship. And in my head, I hear the echoes of questions that people from my own cultural background have raised. “What if I say the wrong thing?” “What if they don’t want anyone to talk with them about this?” Practical ministry and cross-cultural experiences can teach you a lot of things about dealing with people from varied backgrounds. But one of the most useful things I’ve learned, no matter what the culture, is that in the best times you show up to celebrate, and in the worst times you show up to mourn, or at least sympathize. But either way, you show up. It matters a great deal, and they will remember. We all remember (Don’t we?) who was there in the best and worst moments.

If you have a coworker, neighbor, classmate who is from the Philippines, talk to them. Take the chance!

Ask about their family and friends. The least that can happen is that you’ll be uncomfortable (or that you’ll learn they’re really from Guam!). Even if you’re a bit late, like me, showing up counts for something.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15