A Gathering Voices post by Lynne M. Baab
“They’re a wonderful young couple, aren’t they?”
My husband said those words as we were getting ready for bed on the first evening after Susan and Zach arrived. Susan is the daughter of an old friend of mine, and she had emailed almost a year ago saying she and her husband, Zach, wanted to visit New Zealand. I replied, answering her questions about various tourist options she had asked about, and I told her that she and Zach would be welcome to stay with us and see the sights around Dunedin, where we live.
Over the intervening months, Susan and I had emailed several times as she kept me up to date about their trip. They did decide to come to Dunedin and stay with us. They arrived on a Sunday afternoon, and the four of us had dinner together and talked after dinner.
Susan is a Presbyterian minister, as I am, and Zach works on the staff of the same church as Susan. I loved talking with them, listening to them describe the church where they work, chatting about various issues their church is facing and the parallels with my time as an associate pastor in a congregation in Seattle. To me, Susan and Zach are simply people, not necessarily “young people,” as my husband referred to them that first evening. Just people.
I realized that for me, most people between about 20 and 70 are simply people. I usually don’t think of them as young or old or anything particular, just people. However, when someone is over 70, I do tend to think of them as old.
In her job as an associate pastor in a large Presbyterian Church, Susan is responsible for the ministry to seniors. She has always had a huge heart for seniors, and she has a lot of ideas about the best ways for congregations to minister to and with older people. But because she is in her 30s, she feels that her ideas are seldom taken seriously. During her visit with us, she said, “I wish I had a passion for ministry to young adults. That’s what people expect me to be an expert about, and it seems they would listen to my ideas there. But I have never felt drawn that way. All my life, I’ve cared a lot about seniors. But it appears that I’m too young to have an impact on that topic.”
I didn’t ask her if she thinks of seniors as “old people,” or if she simply views them as people. I bet she views them simply as people, not as old people.
I was a teen and young adult in Washington State, where there are lots of Asian Americans. When I’m talking to an Asian American, I often forget they have ethnic roots in Asia, while mine are in Europe. For me, Asian Americans aren’t a category of people, they’re just people. But I have never been around African Americans as much, and I am more aware of African Americans as a category of people.
I’ve been thinking a lot about categories for people ever since Josh and Susan visited. I’ve been pondering the groups of people who are simply people to me, and the groups where I tend to use various adjectives that create categories. Who in your life is just a person? Who belongs to a category? Does it matter?