No one can know what each of us carries with us. We have invisible illnesses, invisible family problems, invisible mental health issues.
Certainly these issues are not completely invisible to others. Anyone who is attentive can see the (physical or mental) pain break through to the surface at times. Yet most of us cannot experience the pain of others. We can only empathize – and that is sufficient for most of us.
We join together with people who carry similar things. Groups for Rheumatoid Disease, groups for Sjogren’s, groups for loss of a family member. But no two diseases, no two disasters, no two burdens are exactly the same in each of us. To the person who says to me “I know exactly how you feel.”, I say “No, you don’t”. (Okay, so far that has only been in my head, not expressed aloud.) Because I am aware that others are also carrying things with them and some may be greater than mine. I can only sigh and remind myself not to judge.
Everyone we encounter has something to teach us. Sometimes it’s tolerance. Can you hold an objective or permissive attitude towards others whose opinions and practices are different from yours? Or do you feel threatened by ideas you may not understand?
Others can teach us how to serve. I recently attended a veteran’s panel discussion and learned how dedicated the members of the panel are to helping other vets. Several of the vets have been homeless themselves, and without a second thought they offer their homes to vets who are currently homeless and in need. Their connection to others in similar (but not identical) circumstances is inspirational.
And then there’s the most illusive lesson of all – patience. I’ve long been aware that humans move through this world at their own pace. I’m not referring to personal development. That’s another story for another post. I’m referring to a physical pace. How fast we walk, move down a flight of stairs, or run to catch a bus. Over the last few years, I’ve slowed down my pace. Not by choice.
It’s not an age thing, it’s an autoimmune disease thing. My body doesn’t respond as quickly to my brain’s signals as it once did. In some cases, it takes additional effort to move my limbs at all. And it hurts when I do. Frequently I feel like I’m moving through wet cement to accomplish my daily tasks. And this makes me the annoying person that people want to push past on the street or on a flight of stairs. I live in the Northeast and everyone is in a hurry.
There are many people carrying much larger burdens than I do. Some of those burdens are temporary. Others are from childhood on. All can be heavy at times, lighter at other times. We can’t always see the pain that people are feeling.
I am a person with Rheumatoid Disease and Sjogren’s Syndrome. And I stand up proudly (yes, but slowly) to state that I am a person of value. Please don’t just brush past me without a second thought. Your first thought being “Why doesn’t she hurry up?” After all, I was once like you, moving through the world at a breakneck speed.
And I also have many things I need to accomplish. The most important? As I slowly move up the steps of a bus before you, I am here to teach you patience.