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Personal Space


I come from a family of seven and we lived in tight quarters for a time. Communal living is not easy. We like space--houses that separate us from our neighbors, big yards, and fences of steel, wood, or trees for privacy. We don’t like a view of our neighbors or the street where they pass but instead, we like nature, unobstructed by humans and their stuff. We like personal space.

This fact has never been clearer to me than when I take a family trip to Disney World. At Disney, a worldwide family destination, one finds a melting pot of people from every culture. The labyrinth of a line to reach the start of a ride is crowded, unglamorous, but where one spends a good bit of time at Disney. When it’s hot in Orlando, Florida, the lines seem to go slower than usual and people inch up to get closer to where the entertainment starts, as though doing so will speed up the line. In this crowded space, it’s up for  interpretation as to how much space you should leave between yourself and the person in line in front of you. It’s apparent that visitors from some other countries don’t  understand that we Americans need and like our personal space. Some have not heard of the personal bubble rule. They get all up in your space; they don’t even say excuse me. Don’t these people have the common decency to stay out of my personal bubble? Well. Obviously, some people didn’t get the memo.

It happens closer to home in places like the Buford Highway Farmer’s market, the grocery store where each isle-turn feels like a trip to another country. Some speak languages I don’t understand and personal space— what’s that? I hear the pop of bursting bubbles.

Makes me wonder: who came up with personal space law and why do people who break my personal-bubble-law go immediately to my mental jail?

Jesus accused the Pharisees of putting people in moral jail. In Mark7, the Pharisees and scribes question Jesus, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” Jesus responds by calling the Pharisees out on their hypocrisy, saying, “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

How do we to know we are not guilty of clinging to human tradition and not to God’s commandment?

When Jesus is asked in the Gospel of Matthew what is the greatest commandment, he replies, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  He goes on to say that the whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments. Matthew 22:37-40

What Christ references as the greatest commandments provides a reference point and a good litmus test. Do our rules jive with the greatest commandments to love God above all else and our neighbor as ourselves?

If I apply this standard to my personal space law, then my rule pops into thin air before any stranger steps a toe too close. We Christians follow God’s laws, or at least attempt to, and Gods laws are there, not for personal comfort (too bad), but for love of God and community (love your neighbor).

I don’t plan to take down the line of bushes between my neighbor’s house and mine (which took years to grow tall enough so I can see nothing of what’s going on with my neighbor) but the next time I go to Buford Highway Farmer’s market and someone encroaches on my personal bubble, no more handcuffs, jail bars and throwing away the key. Instead, I will smile, nod, and give them some personal space.

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