I have always hated shopping.
Did you gasp? I was kind of hoping someone would gasp. That was my thought when I started with that intro – in the world in which we live, women are supposed to love shopping, if I started with a hatred of that then the shock must induce gasps …
It didn’t? Ok. Moving on.
As I was saying, I always hated shopping (gasp). As a little girl I would go with my parents to the dreaded mall and know my life was over. My mom would go into JC Penney or ZCMI and never come out. I’m pretty sure this was an inherited overreaction from my father because we always ended up together, outside the store, on a bench.
Once we were on the bench, however, I didn’t mind being there so much; I was with my dad and with his flowing mane of red hair he could get NO cooler. It was there that he also made up my favorite game. To pass the time, we would sit on the bench and notice people. He would say to me, “Do you see that man over there?” as he pointed to a gentleman coming towards us. “What’s his story?”
I would say something like, “His name is Sam and he’s tall so he likes candy a lot (awesome 9 year old reasoning) and he has a wife at home that he’s buying a cool present for.”
I would then ask him, “What about that mom and kid, who are they?” He would then tell me some elaborate story about this mom and child, how they came from a far away land to surprise elderly parents and were in the mall that day needing to find the perfect gift to express their love and thanks for all that they had been given by these parents.
We would go back and forth like that for what felt like hours but was probably more like 15 minutes.
That game, although we were making up stories for these people, helped me begin a lifelong pattern of seeing others, of knowing that everyone has a story and that their story matters and deserves to be seen.
A few years after these first lessons into observance and seeing other people my life would be altered forever and I would no longer be able to see myself or believe that I mattered.
I would be sexually abused at the age of 11 and left so traumatized by it that I was unable to speak about it; unfortunately, no one would see that my changing wasn’t early adolescence but a scared, ashamed, confused little girl trying to hide deep-seated pain that was eating away at her soul, her innocence.
That is why, today, it is so important to me to see others. To not just glance them over, but to let them know that I see that they matter, that they have pain and joy and that both of those things are important to me. To others it might seem foolish to think my seeing anyone makes a difference but I don’t care because it’s not foolishness to me – I make awkward conversation with cab drivers in Argentina, I ask store clerks how their day is going and try to look them in the eye so they know I’m really asking, I ask those on the streets who ask me for money what their name is.
I’m not perfect at seeing others and sometimes I’m so wrapped up in my own life that I forget or I’m too tired to ask, but I try. And just so you know, my trying to see others isn’t totally altruistic (I only wish I could be as amazing as Mother Theresa 🙂 ) because something crazy happens when I try and look outside myself – the pain I feel about myself and my life, diminishes. It doesn’t go away completely and maybe ten minutes later, I feel the heaviness again, but who cares, for ten minutes it wasn’t there!
E.M. Forester said it best in Howard’s End when he said, “Only Connect!” How can we connect if we aren’t seeing others? How can we connect if we aren’t seeing ourselves? Life is livable when we are connecting with other people. Let yourself be vulnerable enough to reach out, to share who you are with someone, to let them share with you.
If it’s awkward, ok. Perfect. Life is best when it’s awkward because at least it’s real! If it’s painful and you are rejected, I am sad with you because I have been there too. Don’t let that stop you, don’t let fear paralyze you from seeing someone else or letting yourself be seen!
Everyone matters. Everyone has a story. Everyone deserves compassion. Everyone deserves to be seen.
Start seeing others; I promise, it makes life awesome!