How could anyone…?!

How could you…?

How could anyone…?

One of my earliest recollections of this was early in my first year of college hearing someone say, “How could anyone grow up sane if they have to move a bunch of times as a child?”

This friend had grown up (all her life) in the same small town.  12 of the 16 in her high school graduating class, if I remember correctly, she had also started kindergarten with.

My response, a military brat who had moved at least ever 4 years, had wondered the opposite.

I have wondered the same thing: “how could anyone _____?”

I bet you have, too.

But this is another of those times that, if we are honest, we must recognize we don’t know the full story of the other person.

Just like no one else knows your full story.

At our best, we remember that we don’t know the other person’s story.  Then, still at our best, we acknowledge there may be good reason for whatever it is about them or their behavior we cannot imagine.

And if not a good reason, at least a reason we had not thought of.

Please don’t feel the need to hone your skills to learn every possible reason someone might do something differently or be something different from you.

Just let them be who they are.  Learn more (than you already know) about who they are.  Listen to their story.

You might still not understand them or what they do, but by the time you’ve listened to their story, you’ll likely be too tired to judge them.

Less than a mile

Rachel has been away at the annual Board of Ordained Ministry meeting.  These are, perhaps, the only 2 days of the year that I have sole responsibility for our children all day.

A couple of hours into this, I am confronted with this: I do not show her enough appreciation for all she does.  In addition to working at Euless First UMC, and her various Conference responsibilities, she does an excellent job of taking care of our kids and our home.

Sure, I help, and I do more than the stereotypical dad.  Still, when I try to do for 2 days what she does for most of the other 363 each year, I am humbled.

The saying goes that to understand someone, one ought to “walk a mile in their shoes.”

I walk less than a mile and realize how much respect my wife deserves for all that she does daily.

But this got me thinking about all the other people whose lives and situations I presume to understand.  I haven’t walked a mile in their shoes either.

Am I willing?  Would it take a whole mile?

 

Sometimes it isn’t about comparison

Last Wednesday was a strange, surreal day for me.  The day started normally, though an afternoon appointment would, I knew, feel strange.  A member of our church was dying of cancer, but had insisted I come and take some things from his house that he wanted to give to the church.

Then, around 11, I got a call from my mom that my dad wasn’t doing well – that he was, the words I remember, “failing fast.”  I went into son mode and took off toward Arlington, making phone calls as I went.  Dad had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s related dementia, several years ago, and the decline has been, well, long and uncomfortable.

It turns out dad was not as close to death’s door as we thought, but he was having a difficult day.  He had, perhaps, had a small stroke the previous weekend, and was less responsive and not interested in food or drink.  While I was there they got him to take some food.  The immediacy of the situation lessened, I went back to work.

I went back to work but probably wasn’t worth much.  Apparently thinking one’s parent is about to die is rather more distracting than I would like it to be.

Later that afternoon, I made it to visit with my dying church member.  After sharing communion and visiting with him and the friends who were gathered, I began carrying things to the truck I had borrowed for the occasion.

One the way out, I caught myself thinking, “this hasn’t been a very good day for me.”

I stopped those words and played with them in my head.  On a day that I visit with two men who were both likely not to live out the year – perhaps the month – I was feeling like I wasn’t having a good day?

I have not shared this for you to feel sorry for me, to join the piling-on over feeling sorry for myself.

I decided to share this because sometimes in the midst of a challenging time, or despair or sadness, we lose perspective by comparing ourselves with others.

My realization that I was having a bad day was NOT AT ALL about, or to be compared with, the situations of the two men I visited that day.

I have my ups and downs, and you have yours.  That yours are worse today than mine, or that mine were worse last summer than yours is only relevant if being human were a contest, but it isn’t.

In the presence of either my father, or the other man I visited that day, my own situation or challenges appropriately paled in comparison.  But my life is not well lived in comparison to the lives of others.  Neither is yours.

Here’s to knowing when to compare, and when not to.

Where Comparisons Fail

I can’t remember whether it was while I was listening to yesterday afternoon’s marketplace podcast or this morning’s radio reporting, but I heard an interview with a Parish President from Coastal Louisiana.  Having rode out Katrina, he cited several ways Isaac was already worse in his area than Katrina was.

Home from my walk, I opened my paper to find an article comparing Isaac to Katrina.  Briefly, the point was that Isaac is no Katrina.  A quick Google of “Isaac Katrina comparison” told me that comparing the 2 is apparently all the rage.

I can tell you now that everyone who is more affected by Isaac will conclude it is a worse storm than Katrina.  They have every right to do so.  It’s kind of like the unemployment rate doesn’t sound as bad if you have a job.

A good thing to remember in our age of continuous information and growing population is that such comparisons and data tend to take the macro view.  You and I, though, experience life at the micro level.

The best use of comparisons at the micro, or personal level, is not to get into a contest of whose life is better or whose tragedy was greater, but as tools to help us develop empathy for what the other is facing right now.

Whether an experience I had a year ago that is similar to what you are facing right now was greater or less is really irrelevant.  Each of us faces issues and challenges every day that are enough (or more) for the day.

If what you are experiencing today is too heavy, I can help carry it.  If what you are carrying today is light, you won’t have to look too far to fiend someone who could use a little help.

If that sounds like a message you’ve heard set to music, yeah, that thought just struck me, too.