The day I met the Jewwwzz Man was a day like any other day. Well, not exactly like any other day, because we (my lovely wife of 48 years and I) were not home in gray, dreary Ontario, but in sunny, warm Mexico. So, it was a day like any other day, while on vacation in Mexico avoiding the gray, dreary Ontario winter that I encountered him, but again, not exactly like any other day.
The day I met the Jewwwzz Man, was a day during our yearly sojourn in Mexico when two friends were visiting for the week. One of them has limited mobility and uses a walking stick, and the other has a chronic lower back problem and doesn’t move along so well either. That meant our daily routine now included taking electric transports from place to place within the resort.
Taking transport vehicles, means that one’s person might be exposed to others who are also escaping their own version of a cold, gray, dreary winter. That inevitability means certain beings can intrude inside my Dome of Heaven. Whenever such intrusions occur, they might be limited to an I-It category of relationship, or elevated to an I-Thou level. They might be permitted to remain under my Dome of Heaven, or be banished to the netherworld far from that idyllic place.
If you don’t know the difference between I-It and I-Thou relationships, you can read my book “Through a Lens of Emptiness” or you can read Martin Buber’s “I-It and I-Thou.” Suffice it to say, that I-It relationships are limited to factual knowledge about something or someone, and I-Thou relationships imply emotional interactions. When the Jewwwzz Man intruded into my Dome of Heaven, we were on such a transport vehicle. He didn’t even have a name at the time and there was no way of telling who he really was. He was just there, seated one seat behind me on the transport.
Leaning forward into my space, he asked where we were headed, and I politely responded with the name of the restaurant. As these sorts of informal inquisitions go, I responded in kind. We exchanged some impressions of the quality of food at each place. He asked “Did you have the Paella?” I responded as best I could, offering my opinion of the cuisine, and he in turn offered his. He increased the audacity of his intrusion by introducing himself. Thus marks the transition from just another human traveling on the same transport vehicle as me, to an I-It relationship called Mike from Illinois.
Sometimes one can choose his I-It interactions and sometimes they just happen. Mike from Illinois just happened because to ignore him would have been contrary to normal civil discourse, and certainly contrary to my Canadian manner. However, it was not until the next morning that I-It Mike transformed into I-Thou.
Mike and I crossed paths on our way to and from the exercise facility (El Gimnasio) at the resort, he on his way to, and me on my way from. Because of our newly formed I-It status we immediately recognized each other and stopped to exchange a socially appropriate “good morning.” Mike decided to elevate his end of the relationship by asking “Where are you from?” to which I responded, “Near Toronto in Canada.” That should have been the end of it, but Mike decided to push the limits of our relationship to the next level.
He prolonged the interaction by saying, “My son (or perhaps it was his brother, I can’t remember which because I didn’t really care) lived in Toronto for a year and told me there were all kinds of different people living in there.”
To which I countered, “There certainly are, Toronto is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in North America.” Mike’s rejoinder tipped his hand, for with his next words I discovered his true identity.
Mike then remarked, “I understand there are a lot of Jewwwzz in Toronto ―a lot of Jewwwzz,” I knew who I was dealing with. It was the Jewwwzz Man in the flesh.
I responded, “That’s true,” all the while controlling an enormous urge to laugh a great big, loud, roaring laugh. You see, at that very moment, as the word Jewwwzz left his lips, Mike from Illinois transformed into a human-like Dr. Seussian character. There was just something about his face, the way his mouth formed the word Jewwwzz, and the way those sounds oozed and slithered out of his mouth, prolonging the “…wwwzz” sound that strongly resembled the Grinch, or a Whovien creature from some oversized Whoville. It was at this point in our relationship that I-It became I-Thou, at least for the moment.
What the Jewwwzz Man didn’t know, couldn’t know, is that I happen to be Jewish. I took his comment to be a reflection of an intrinsic level of anti-Semitism, a form of the resident evil present in xenophobes. There was just something about his emphasis on “many different kinds of people” and “lots of Jewwwzz,” that screamed XENOPHOBIA. I-It Mike from Illinois, became, I-Thou Mike the Jewwwzz Man.
I went from just identifying Mike as a human being with a certain physical form from a certain place (just knowledge), to what Mike was like on the inside — a xenophobic, Mid-Western Caucasian, American, who had the temerity to evoke an emotional response in me. I am not angry with Mike. I do not hate him or care to get to know him better, fear his presence on the face of the earth, or revile him. Indeed, there is a smidgeon of sympathy for this narrow-minded and prejudiced individual.
There is something pitiable about a person who cannot see past the image of “all kinds of people living in Toronto” to describe a multicultural, cosmopolitan city. Mike’s true, negative feelings about people who are not like him, Caucasian, American, and Christian, came across when he said “lots of Jewwwzz” in conversation. After mulling this thought over in his head for a few seconds during a thoughtful pause, and then saying “lots of Jewwwzz” a second time without taking a second breath, confirmed it.
The essence of any I-Thou relationship is that it persists as long as the emotions related to it exist. I usually cherish I-Thou relationships because they fulfill me, but not this one. The Jewwwzz Man is more like the Grinch than he knows. I may never be able to relegate Mike from Illinois to an I-It status again, but I certainly can exclude him from my Dome of Heaven, relegating him to the nether provinces of my life experience. My Dome of Heaven definitely does not, and never will, include xenophobes.
As always, your faithful blogger,
L Alan Weiss (Larry) – Author