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.