A few weeks ago I wrote this. It was my first crack at fiction in a long time and it was inspired by this picture (and one of my ninth graders who has generously shared some of her brilliant fiction with me). When I looked at the picture, I found myself immediately turned off by the woman’s face. She irritated me for some reason. When I looked into her eyes, I found myself feeling as though she must have done something to deserve the blood that covered her face.
Then I looked deeper into the picture and wondered if the woman’s eyes instead were pleading to be understood. I wondered if the blood was indicative of some kind of pain. I realized that if she walked down the street she may be ostracized or cast off. That’s when the story came to me.
I’ve been thinking lately about all the people I come in contact with on a daily basis. My life intersects with hundreds of people every single day just as the two women in the story cross paths. Literally. Every day, my classroom houses 150 different students. I work closely with teachers, I meet with a small group, and I stand in line with strangers at Starbucks.
The other day I was driving home from school in the fast lane on the Interstate. I quickly came upon a van that was going far too slow for my liking. My first instinct was to let the driver know I was annoyed. I wanted him to know that he was going too slow for the fast lane, so I stayed right behind him trying to “force” him to move. Then I had a thought. Maybe this guy had a rotten day. Maybe he’s so lost in thought about some lousy life circumstance that he just forgot what lane he is driving in. Suddenly, my irritation was gone. I put my blinker on, passed him on the right, and went on my way.
We all have our fair share of baggage don’t we? When I think about those hundreds of people I see on a daily basis, I can think of a broad range of trials plaguing their daily routines. Divorce. Abandonment. Loneliness. Disease. Death. Financial turmoil. Insecurity. Doubts. The more I interact with people, the more I realize that there is always more to the story. There’s always a curtain that covers the stage equipment and a façade to mask the pain of how things really are.
But how often do we think about that? How often in our interactions with people do we stop to think about how they are really doing? How often do we treat people with disregard or unkindness because we’re inconvenienced or annoyed? How often does an unkind word escape our lips instead of a simple, “How are you?” Because really, wouldn’t that be a better solution to the problem?
When I say “our”, I really mean “my” because when I think about it, I am as guilty of this as anyone. I am the first woman in the story. So often my needs and opinions and presuppositions take priority because I have neglected to realize that I’m not the only one walking the face of the Earth. So often I get caught up in my own stress and to-do list without stopping to remember that there are plenty of hurting people in my life who could just use a prayer or a smile.
How much different would life be if we all just loved? In my observation, love has become somewhat of a conditional thing. It’s like all the marriage books say: If you don’t feel loved, you won’t show love, and the cycle goes on and on. Aren’t all relationships like marriage in that regard? An unkind word, an unreasonable request, or a simple slow driver justifies our retreat into self-centeredness.
What if love was at the center of the response? Wouldn’t our interactions be drastically different? In the case of the two women at Starbucks, a little love gives the story a different ending. It gives the story hope. It gives the woman in the cream sweater something to hold onto in that moment. It lets people know that they don’t have to walk the road alone. That they matter. And how beautiful it is when we remind people that they matter.