The Intimacy of Strangers

By Eric Burch

Delivered at First UU Congregation of Second Life

On Aug 14, 2008

I'll start with the service I delivered last night:

 Good things happen when you meet strangers.
 -- Yo-Yo Ma


 >> Chalice Lighting.

A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space.
He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.
Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion
to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
  -- Albert Einstein


 >>  Discussion.  "The Intimacy of Strangers."

We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight,
somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.
 -- Fyodor Dostoevsky

A few years ago, a former minister of my RL church, Sarah York, wrote a book called "The Holy Intimacy of Strangers."
The book discussed how strangers--those unknown to us--come into our lives in special ways, and let our better selves show through.
She gave examples on how helping total strangers in their time of need fills an important need in our souls; giving a ride to
a hitchhiker, and buying lunch for someone down on their luck.

Those new to us--those strange to us--give us a blank canvas on which we can paint our humanity, in a personal, one-on-one way.
With some we meet, we can live our second principle: "Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations."
Who best to try something new than with someone who doesn't know anything about us?

Rev. York also discussed how chance encounters with strangers can let us explore and discuss things,
topics that we wouldn't share with those closest to us.
The "stranger on the plane" effect we've all probably experienced.
This can be a good thing--by opening up to someone we think we'll never see again, perhaps we can build the courage to
open up to those we are really close to.
We can discuss options with a disinterested third party, and perhaps gain insight from a perspective unknown and unsought.

Sometimes we do know a little about strangers we meet: I can say that here in Second Life I've collaborated with a few of
you here, knowing nothing other than you are probably Unitarian Universalist (if not in fact, at least in heart).
Knowing that little bit, I can make a few assumptions about projects we can attempt together; sometimes incorrect but more
often than not a spark has been generated.
We merge our talents together as a small group of strangers here.
A few people here I have grown close to; some of you I am happy to have met, and some of you I very much look forward to meeting.

Slightly related, My former minister brings up that the internet, and by extension here in Second Life,
we have an opportunity to reconnect with those who have become strangers; those who we were once close to, and have drifted apart.
Many of us are separated by distance--and teleportation here solves that problem easily.
A generation ago, people would write letters; today we have emails.  
But the little events that happen in our lives that people may care about are lost if no-one is close enough to see.
Here in Second Life we can just text chat the little events of our lives; during the day at work I have a Google chat window up
and a few of you have just chatted with me; some to just pass the time, and a few times to help each other through the day.

Maybe that is the beauty of Twitter: the free online service where you can post short messages about what you are up to,
and people can subscribe and see what is going on.
Your friends and family can keep up with those little things happen in your life.
I think Twitter is a bit too narcissistic, then again, I thought the same about blogs and yet I find myself starting one for myself.

Along with a place where we can pursue our own games and hobbies and individual projects, it just may be possible to
form communities here in this place that is everywhere-yet-nowhere.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative