Okay. In a recent blog I wrote about individual differences. If you’ll recall, I used a photograph of two amaryllis flowers growing at dramatically different rates as my meme. The beat goes on, by the way. Although the smaller stalk has entered a growth spurt, the bigger one has stopped growing and has begun to burst forth in lovely bright-red flowers. But at the end of the day, both are the same variety of flower and both inhabit the same box...
My point today is that while our world contains dramatic differences of all kinds, it also has many similarities. Both exist, to be sure, and both have their place in the universe and our lives. So, my point of departure this time is not a picture but an Italian saying: Once the chess game is over, the king and the pawn go back into the same box. Yes, during the game the two pieces have incredibly distinct powers and ranks. But the earth we all return to, like the box, is the ultimate leveler. There, king and the least of his subjects are equally dead and gone. Sire and sirrah, to use a Shakespearean term, both resolve into the same dust.
Similarities definitely have a role to play in terms of familiarity and comfort. We Jews have an expression we use sometimes on meeting each other: Landsman. Although the literal meaning of this Yiddish (and German) term is someone from the same place or country, in our case it also means something like “You and I may be different in some ways, but we are both members of the same sometimes discriminated-against religious and cultural minority. As a result, we can relax with each other and not worry about being ‘othered’ by someone from the mainstream.” If familiarity can breed contempt, it can also be a cause of comfort. Japanese tourists love to vacation or even get married and honeymoon in Hawaii. Why? Because the largest population group in the 50th State consists not of Hawaiians or even us haoles but of Japanese-Americans. So, the visiting Japanese feel comfortable seeing lots of people who look like them, with some even speaking their language and knowing the right way and time to bow. Similarly, diaspora Jews report on the sense of relief they feel when they visit Israel where they for once can be a part of the majority.
In Jaroslav Hašek's 1921 play The Good Soldier Schweik, set in World War I, two soldiers from opposite sides run into each other in the forest at night. One asks in a commanding voice, “Who goes there?” Schweik answers with more fear than confidence, “A human being.” They end up sitting down together, putting their rifles aside, sharing how tired they are of the war, and showing each other family pictures. Differences are or can be delicious. That’s the basis for the tourist industry, not to mention ethnic restaurants. But they must also be balanced by the fundamental realization that we are all part of a single creative universe and as such are family. As they say in Hawaiian pidgin, “Same-same. We all just one ohana!” And to that I’ll add “Alo-ha!”