Let’s give thanks tomorrow for the gift of acceptance. We are blessed to live in a town that is so accepting of others. My family has felt welcome in Forest Park since the day we moved here. I’m still exchanging greetings with neighbors when I walk around town. 

You can’t always find a place like this. I’ve lived in towns, where I never felt fully accepted. I’ve also visited places where the residents felt superior to others. We once met a bunch of my sister’s neighbors at a party. We greeted them but received silence in return. They made it very clear we were peasants unworthy of their attention.

Perhaps there are people like that in Forest Park. People who feel they are superior to others. If so, I’ve rarely met one. This is a town where pretentiousness is scarce. The residents who welcomed us to the neighborhood didn’t look down on us as newcomers. We were all sharing the joys and struggles of raising kids. They invited us to join youth sports teams and met us at school programs.

When we move to a new town, or attend a new school, acceptance is what we crave. I hardly knew a soul at my high school, but I found a friendly lunch table. In fact, we’re still hanging out after all these years. I’ve seen Triton College accepting students from war-torn countries and helping them to make a fresh start in America.

Acceptance is difficult. We can’t even accept our own faults, let alone others. It’s easier to focus on differences. Different skin color, different language, different clothing. We can be put off by a person’s appearance. We may not like their piercings, tattoos or exotic hair colors. How many times do we get past appearance to see that person’s humanity? 

I had to find the humanity in people who were horribly disfigured from car accidents, or workplace injuries. It was never easy. But the more I heard their voice, the more I knew they were just regular people. I could get past their appearance to hear their pain.

We can always find reasons not to accept people. We can exclude them for their political views, their religious beliefs, or their preference for the Packers over the Bears. It’s one thing to be accepting of your companions at Thanksgiving. It’s another to have an entire community’s acceptance tested. The influx of migrants to Chicago is testing whether a sanctuary city can live up to its principles. 

Our acceptance level is also tested in Forest Park. We have many people coming here with severe problems. Some suffer from extreme poverty, mental health problems and addictions. So far, we have continued to be a welcoming community. 

Acceptance, though, is not the same as approval. We don’t have to approve of someone’s lifestyle or decision making to accept who they are. Jesus got into trouble because he accepted people who were judged “unclean.”

The religious authorities couldn’t tolerate that. There are many judgmental people like that in the world. Intolerance often leads to violence. Some Israelis cannot accept a Palestinian state. Some Palestinians won’t accept Israel’s right to exist. 

We don’t have to invoke international conflicts, though, to see the value of acceptance. We have people who are not accepted by their own families. We judge and criticize. We don’t want to accept people with all their faults.

We have no choice, though. We can’t change reality. That’s the toughest part of the Serenity Prayer: Accepting the things we cannot change. 

We may not be able to fix someone’s problems, but we can listen with grace.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.