Thursday, July 07, 2016

What the hell is water?

I saw a young, beautiful, white woman, looking 18 or 19, and wearing a summery short dress that stopped just above her knees, approaching me from the other direction as I neared a curve in the path along the river.  I heard her talking.

I smiled to myself.  Of course, this is the age of nonstop talk even when by the river.

And then I noticed something odd.  She had no earbuds nor was she holding to a phone.  So, what was the talk about then?  Was she talking to herself that loudly?

The answer came right behind her.

Another beautiful young white woman, a couple of years older than the first one, and dressed in business-casual pants and a blouse, seemed to be walking fast trying to catch up--literally and conversationally--with the one in front.

By now, the woman in the dress was past and behind me, and I was on par with the one in pants, who seemed to be trying her best not to make a scene by talking too loudly.  She spoke with enough volume for the one ahead to hear her. "We are on your side. We are trying to help you.  You got mom all worried."

She was now past me.  Which is when I saw another white woman, who looked like she could easily be the "mom."  She was on the phone and trying her best to keep up with the pace, despite her not-so-slim appearance.  "Yes, we are on the bikepath now" is all I heard her say to whoever that she was talking with.

The story that was evolving was not a happy one, obviously.  For whatever reason, the young woman in the summer dress was trying to get away from the people who are on her side.  I would never have guessed anything like that when I smiled to myself on seeing the young woman and hearing her voice.

Young or old, most of us walk around with stories that are incredibly complicated and difficult to read, even if we successfully maintain a calm and collected outward self.  Our external appearance is perhaps nothing but the proverbial tip of the iceberg, and a great deal of our own joys and sorrows and disappointments and frustrations and anger and everything else lie deep within.

When we look at somebody, especially strangers, we easily forget to think of the complications in the lives of the others.  In this case, at least the young woman had two other people interested in her welfare.  The homeless person muttering to herself on the street corner, on the other hand, has nobody.  But, she, too, has a backstory.  Maybe she was once the prom queen at her high school. Perhaps she was her parents' jewel. And, then went things went wrong, she was all alone by herself with nobody running after her telling her "we are on your side. We are trying to help you."  Or, perhaps people did run after her, but nobody could prevent the unfortunate stories from unfolding.

In a wonderful commencement address, the late David Foster Wallace talked about how we choose to see the world.  "The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about," Wallace said.  And we often make the choice not to even consider the possibility that the other who gets in our way might have problems that are way more challenging than whatever we might be experiencing.

I hope that the young woman is safe and well, in the caring company of people who are on her side and who want to help her.

3 comments:

Ramesh said...

This is you, at your best. A casual event sets off a blog post that has meaning and empathy. Yes, if only we could see the world from the lens of the other, we would have an infinitely nicer and kinder society.

May I give you a hug, for no reason at all, just to say I care.

Anne in Salem said...

Though I think some people are naturally more empathetic, I believe empathy can be learned. It is usually learned through a bad experience and embarrassment and a generous helping of shoe leather, one has to become more aware after such an encounter. Perhaps we should consider this skill as a benefit of aging.

I want a hug, too.

Sriram Khé said...

Am glad you two found the post involving enough for virtual hugs that, in this case, are gestures that emphasize empathy. The thread continues with the next post too.

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