Sometimes all my worlds collide. Dreams become realities, several stories I’ve heard merge and morph into one giant lesson. Or column, as the case may be.
I’ve always heard said that we should not criticize or judge others until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Taking it a step further, no pun intended, there is the saying, “I cried that I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”
And then there’s the example I read once about a man on a train with his children. They were unruly and misbehaving and he appeared to be oblivious. There was no discipline, no curtailing of their loud and boisterous display.
Finally, one of the other passengers on the train could stand it no longer and spoke up.
“Sir, can you get your children in line?” the passenger said.
Looking up, as if a trance had been broken, the man sighed. He paused to catch his breath before responding.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “We just came from the hospital, where their mother passed away. They are having a hard time with it.”
Boy, doesn’t that just jump up and hit you between the eyes. He didn’t make excuses. He wasn’t throwing it in the meddler’s face that there was a very justifiable reason his kids probably weren’t acting the best.
Well, this week I had a convergence of sorts as I was preparing to write this column. I was preparing to leave my office when I noticed a man at the front desk who had been there a few minutes.
I thought he was waiting for someone in the other department to assist him, so it was easy enough as I walked past to ask if there was anything I could do.
Before I could open my mouth, though, I noticed he was clipping something out of a newspaper.
What the heck, I thought. You can’t just walk in here and start cutting out things you want.
Now I’ve heard, and seen, it all, I mused. I mean, folks have come in and used all kinds of angles to get a free paper — “Hey, it’s yesterday’s paper; it’s old news,” someone will say. Or, “I just want this one story,” says another.
So yeah, in my all-knowing mind, I figured this was a case of someone taking matters into his own hands and cutting out the article he wanted to have. Still, I can be professional and ask nicely, which I did.
He started to explain that he needed copies, and it was all I could do to let him finish his sentence.
“Without paying for any of them?!!” I wanted to say.
Thankfully, I was polite enough not to interrupt.
“I just bought these extra papers of my wife’s obituary, and I was trying to cut out copies to go and get laminated,” he said, before asking if there was a place to recycle the pages he didn’t need.
I am still trying to catch my breath. It was definitely a humbling moment, much like the presumptuous person in the train story experienced. I immediately offered my condolences, masking the shame and embarrassment that I had ever thought otherwise.
A short while later, exiting the bank, a man with part of his arm amputated held the door open for me. It brought to mind the aforementioned adage about the person who had no feet.
Those are just two examples that will definitely serve a purpose for me moving forward. Surely there will be numerous others that present themselves if we just pay attention.
When I was going through my battle with cancer, there were several things I prayed to be more mindful of — the value of time and how I spend it and not missing opportunities to treat others well because we never know what they are going through on any given day.
Friday marked five years of my being cancer-free. I am thankful every day for life and good health.
Still, we can all benefit from lessons that present themselves, starting with “tread lightly.”
Stop clomping around in Army boots everywhere we go, presuming to know — or be in any position to judge without all the facts — lest we risk stepping on someone else’s fragile, breaking heart.
And secondly, keep our words sweet and tender, for we never know when we’ll have to eat them.