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Thursday, 8 September 2011

There's a Lot We Don't Know

Sometimes I think about how much we don't know.

How endless stories play out all around us all of the time and we never understand them let alone know they are happening. We live our lives so narrowly, viewed through our own eyes and range of experience and so naturally, colored by our own perceptions.

When William was a year old, we bundled ourselves onto a train heading to the nearest town and there we sat while the rolling hills of Jæren hurtled by. The conductor was a lovely blond woman about my age and when she came to check our tickets, William waved his chubby arms at her and wrinkled his face into a huge baby smile, cooing and chattering with sheer delight. As his mother, it seemed to me that all the joy in the entire world was contained in this precious, eager messy haired small boy. I smiled indulgently at him and then, used to him being fussed and exclaimed over by others, looked up at the conductor, ready to share a smile over his endearing enthusiasm. Instead though, she ignored William altogether. She stared stonily over his head and pointedly didn't acknowledge him. His smile faltered a bit in confusion but each time she passed he tried again, beaming up at her and waving and playfully hiding his face and peeking out at her from behind small hands and each time she walked by with her eyes focused straight ahead. When we reached our stop, she went ahead of us to the door and we waited for a few seconds before the door opened onto the platform. All the while William continued his bid for her smile and she continued to stare somewhere just over his head.

The doors opened and I pushed the stroller out into the clear, cool sunlight feeling slightly stung as I tried to work out why she couldn't even have given him one little smile. Feeling protective and in a strange way in need of reassuring myself, I started murmuring to William "Don't worry Baby, you're so precious. Everyone loves you Sweetheart...".

And in a flash, I remembered life before William. Life that felt as though it was without hope. How in the space of a single August afternoon, I changed from being the sort of person who adored babies, any baby at all...I wasn't picky, and would make silly faces at them and want to hold them until my arms ached to being the sort of person who could barely find the strength it took to look at a newborn baby. Who would perhaps, stare stonily over their heads when they looked at me because if I had looked at their tiny faces, listened to their precious laughter...I wouldn't have been able to make it. I might have fallen apart in front of everyone. It was instinctive self-preservation. Eventually this healed but it taught me to be more sensitive to others. Not to ask casually when someone is going to have children; not to assume someone wants to hold my baby; not to make careless remarks about children in general.

Anyway, I don't know why the conductor on the train couldn't manage to smile at William. Instead of feeling offended by it though I tried, as I walked away, to think compassionately. Maybe she had suffered through several miscarriages. Maybe she sat in a doctor's office one beautiful summer day, much like I did, thinking her whole life was before her and instead had to watch numbly as her world collapsed around her. Maybe she had had a child who died young. I don't know. Maybe none of those things. There is always the possibility that she just didn't like children and I have an overactive imagination. :)

There is so much we don't know about others and the roads they have had to travel in life. I feel that we would get so much further if rather than be offended by others, we would remember that and try to live a life full of empathy.


Anonymous said...

Nice post Colleen.

The day we had to identify Seans body I remember travelling back home on the tube with my son - we were both numb; I remember looking at my fellow travellers and thinking "None of them know what I have just had to do."

My son and I just sat staring blankly ahead, I'm sure no small child was playing peep-o with us but if they had of been I may not have noticed!

Colleen said...

Oh Jane, I can't imagine. Your experience illustrates so exactly what I mean; we simply don't know, can not imagine what other people are going through at any given time and how much we lose when we decide to take offense without the full story. I am so sorry Jane. Thanks for your comment.

Judi said...

Beautifully said Colleen, like always...thanks for sharing.

JIM said...

Wonderfully written,,I had the same thought as you maybe she had a personal loss. You have a great way of writing I am looking forward to reading more.

Grandma K said...

The grouchy sales clerk, the inattentive receptionist.... who knows what they are feeling or have just had to deal with.

I have so often been guilty of judging. Thank you for the reminder to not judge.

So well written as usual. Thanks Colleen!

Karen Kyle Ericson said...

What a great story. It helps me stop and remember that others have their own issues to deal with. Sometimes we just can't react the way others want us to. Great inspirational writing!

Brian Miller said...

really good piece and so true...everyone has a story and something is going on in their life besides their interaction with you...we often take on a its all about me attitude when really it is all about them....

mary333 said...

I can relate to so many of your stories, Colleen. I remember the day I walked out of the hospital after the doctor had tried to get dye through my fallopian tubes to no avail. I remember his, "I'm so sorry." And the nurse looking at me with sad eyes as the tears I was trying to hold back kept sneaking out of my eyes without my permission. I remember leaning against the hospital wall outside, sobbing as years of pain forced its way up through my heart... my mom holding me and crying too because I was her baby who could not have any babies.

My heart breaks for every woman who goes through this and for every mother who loses a child. I try to have care about asking questions of people who have no children. It always surprised me that some people assumed we did not WANT children. Little did they know I begged for them on my knees constantly.

The woman in your story may have been someone who was in pain. Or maybe she was just a grump. Either way, she was suffering and I like the way you try to walk in another's shoes before you judge and that you have a big, compassionate heart.

I guess we both got our miracles, didn't we? And ones with future vocations at that :)

Keep that halo on straight, St. Colleen ;) Your comment cracked me up! You are someone I look forward to meeting in heaven!

Joyful said...

So true!

Whenever someone doesn't respond or react in a way I think they ought, I try to remember that each person is going through their own "stuff" which has nothing to do with me.

Great post!

Martha J. M. Orlando said...

Beautifully poignant, Colleen! Being more aware of others around us and practicing empathy with them goes a long way in our human and in our spiritual growth.
Thank you for sharing!

Serene said...

Colleen, what a beautiful post. For almost 4 years, I didn't think I could have children. I cried when my sister called us and told us she was pregnant....AGAIN...when I had not been able to get pregnant even one time. People would ask me so many times when I was going to have children, as if it were my choice. But it was eye opening for me. I learned to be more sensitive of other people and NOT ask assumptive questions like "So when are you going to have babies?". Because you just don't know what people are going through. Noble a life of empathy... Much love! ~Serene

Mary-Anne said...

I love you.

Mari said...

Great post! I started reading it, being very upset with this woman but my perspective changed as I read. You never know what is going on in someones life. Thanks for the reminder.

Just Be Real said...

Colleen, thank you so much for posting this. Wow. Blessings.

Bongo said...

You never know what that person sitting next to you..or that stranger you pass walking down the road have been though...since my daughter gave my grandson up for adoption, I have a hard time looking at babies ..or children of his age..Life is complicated....As always...XOXOXOXO

Nelieta said...

A beautiful story Colleen. Maybe it is better that other people cannot see through the windows to the soul. We just need to learn to be considerate towards other people.

Jan said...

Beautiful story telling. Wonderful story, I believe we each have a responsibility to remember the burdens others carry if we want to consideration for our own. I have a facial expression when I am thinking or just being, that makes people think I am sad or angry. I am aware of this and try to be conscious of the expression, but I am often misinterpreted as bitchy because of it.Which sets a cycle of responses of the negative nature. All because my brain was on a mission. i loved this post.

Rachna said...

You are so right, Colleen. Sometimes, caught up in our own worlds, we are quick to jump to conclusions about others. I would quickly label a person like that rude or ill-mannered or mean without actually knowing the reason behind the incident. I guess, we are all learning each day. Thank you for sharing your experience and insights.

Rimly said...

I loved your experience and the way you ended. We are so quick to judge people that we dont realize what make them to do the things they do. It takes a lot to look at the other person's point of view and try and understand. You need compassion to do that and you showed that even though your heart must have broken every time the conductor ignored William. By the way he is adorable.

Colleen said...

Judi, thank you so much!

Jim, I appreciate your comment and it is good to know you had a similar take as me on her behaviour. Thank you for stopping by, I look forward to seeing more of your beautiful photos!

Oh me too Grandma K, me too. I have been guilty of this many times and many times afterward been shown obviously how wrong my judgements were.

Dear Karen, thank you for your words! I am still planning on doing a post with the award but it just didn't go with this one today! :)

Brian, thank you, those are wise words.

Oh Mary, I am sorry for your experience. I didn't know. even in your comment you write so eloquently that I was moved to tears for you because I could visualize what you wrote, I understand so well. We did both get our miracles...that's a pretty huge thought right there. Have a wonderful day and I'll try to straighten that darn halo of mine!;) I look forward to someday meeting you too...whether in this crazy life or the next!

Penny, thank you! That is exactly what I try to remember too!

Colleen said...

Martha, thank you for your comment! Excellent point, empathy helps us grow in so many ways, it takes us out of that narrow life and way of seeing and creates a whole new level of understanding and reacting to others with love and more Christ-like hearts. Blessings to you too!

Serene, I know what you are saying. I think often people mistake those feelings for jealousy but nothing could be further from the truth. It's pain. Your heart still rejoices in another person's good news but breaks at the same time for what you are lacking, not what the have been blessed with. In the past I have shed my fair share of tears too over news like this but it was all part of the healing process and so so you lady!

Mary-Anne, I love you too. Miss you so much.

Mari, thank you for your comment! I need the reminder often myself.:)

JBR; thank you and blessings to you too.

Anonymous said...

empathy. so much needed.

Colleen said...

Dear Bonnie, I am so sorry. Your experience is also one that applies so well here. How could anyone know what you and your daughter have gone through? It's so terribly sorry. Hugs to you.

Nelieta, maybe you are right, if we could see exactly what people were going through and have gone through, what would ever teach us compassion? We would be compassionate out of knowledge not and not simply for compassion's sake. Very insightful comment!

Terri, that's a good point as well! I hadn't thought of that and you are right, many children are encouraged to preform before adults...and to some, it is the most natural behavior in the world.

Jan isn't it true how some minor, unintentional thing can set off a cycle of negativity in those around us? It really makes one think!

Rachna, thank you for your comment. I understand well because that was my first reaction in my heart as well...I'm glad I decided to look at it another way getting off the train. How sad iit would have been to spend precious time being hurt over that!

Rimly, thank you so much! William is an adorable little guy...we have to be careful not to let it go to his head.;)

Kamana, thank you for your comment.

Zuzana said...

Such an endearing post dear Colleen. Yes, we do not know many things and we have to remember that also before we judge others. I am like you, so happy, optimistic and light hearted and I think everyone deserves my smiles. But perhaps some people harbor pains withing that prevents the to be happy. I pity them, yet before I dismiss them I try to remember that fact.
Love your stories dear friend,