I recently watched the movie “Harold and Maude,” a somewhat dark and quirky love story about an older woman and much younger man. It’s one of my favorites. There’s loads of meaningful dialogue, plus it features a phenomenal soundtrack by Cat Stevens. In one of my favorite scenes Harold says to Maude, “you sure have a way with people,” and she responds, “Well, they’re my species!”
First released in 1971, it was already an old movie the first time I saw it in the 1980s. But it had a pretty big impact on my high school self. That “species” line stuck out more than the others (and the movie is full of good lines). It may sound silly, but I’d never thought of myself as being part of a “species.” Other animals formed species; animals that do their business outdoors, hibernate, lay eggs or eat their young. Animals with a crazy long laundry list of things they have in common. But human beings? Never crossed my mind.
It was a rude awakening. If I had to be part of a species, did it have to be humans? Human beings have such capacity for love and compassion, but so often treat each other horribly. We can be dreadful creatures. Even so it made me wonder what “way” do I have with people? If I’m resigned to be part of this group, how do I do so gracefully?
This is where my faith stepped in to play. Even before Maude helped me recognize myself as part of an actual species, I recognized myself and others as children of God. The only way I was going to thrive in relationships (and sometimes merely survive) with other human beings was to remember we are all unconditionally loved. Perhaps not by me (after all I am part of a very flawed species), but by a patient and loving God.
This “we are all God’s children” understanding goes a long way when it comes to softening my heart toward others. One time I even very intentionally put it to the test. A friend and I were visiting Las Vegas. Las Vegas is full of humans; obnoxious, pushy humans. We commiserated about The Strip crowded with people constantly trying to sell us something. We debated on ways to get from point A to B without enduring the swarm. To save my sanity, the next time we ventured out I tried something that worked with surprisingly lovely results. I remembered with every encounter that each person was a child of God. Remarkably, I was able to smile as I said “no, thank you” to these most obnoxious members of my own species. It didn’t make me want to visit a time share condo, or buy a T-shirt, or go the girlie revue. But it did make the walk more relaxing and much less threatening.
Let’s face it. We aren’t always lovable; that’s just one of the many things we human beings have in common. It’s not easy to walk alongside some folks, and others we just don’t want to claim as human. Nevertheless, like Maude I decided to claim humans as my species. I’m not suggesting we emulate all of her behaviors (she steals stuff), but she did do all things in her life out of love. That’s something to emulate. Let’s allow God’s love to soften our hearts and help us recognize that as a species, as God’s children, we have a lot of potential. Softened by God’s love, it’s much easier to find our way.
• Becky Corson is a member of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. “Living & Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.