Little moments of goodness happen all the time in our lives; its looking for and appreciating them that can be the challenge. I always felt bothered by the advice that when we feel we are in most need of help, of comfort, of being seen, that it is in looking outward to others that we find help and healing. I had practiced that on occasion and felt that it did ring true, forgetting myself and my problems to focus on another brought with it peace and fulfillment. But the peace and fulfillment didn't last forever and naturally my mind would return to my problem or my struggle and I would lapse into a sense of hopelessness that I would ever be able to shake the heaviness that had so easily become ever present.
For me, the hopelessness was a mixture of fear, sadness, anxiety, and pain that I always identified more as heaviness. The heaviness was like the thing you sometimes see out of the corner of your eye but can never really recognize; it was the shadow a child sees on a hot Summer day and believes they can outrun it – so they try – they run around in circles, cutting this way and that, finally finding themselves red faced and out of breath under the shade of a tree claiming victory. However, it's a short-lived victory because they will soon have to step into the sun and the shadow returns. The heaviness is always real for me. But just as real as the heaviness is, so are the moments of light and freedom from the darkness and more often than not, those moments always involve me looking out to others.
One moment in particular came back to me this week as I, once again, began to sink into the darkness, the heaviness. I always hesitate to share these moments but it was one that brought such light to my heart when it happened and continues to motivate me to see others.
Her name was Patty.
I was driving to school one morning last year, late and annoyed. The night before had been awful and I had been plagued by the darkness in a way that had left me feeling like I was trying to outrun my shadow. I wanted out of life, of pain, of responsibility. Sitting at a red light, engrossed in my anger and self-hatred, I saw her. She was a heavy set lady in her early 60's and she was running and waving at a bus that was turning down a hill towards temple square in Salt Lake. My heart instantly went out to her and I began to will the bus driver to see her, to stop.
He didn't stop, he didn't see.
As the bus sped past she slowed her pace and her head dropped down in a way I recognized all too well. It wasn't just a frustration or annoyance I saw, it was distress, it was hopelessness.
By then the light had turned green and I was off in the opposite direction, but when I had seen her head drop the thought had instantly come to me that maybe I could offer her a ride. Just as fast as I had thought I could offer her a ride came the inner dialogue as to why I couldn't … Mia, you are late – you are going in the opposite direction – what would you even say? – she can catch the next bus - she'll think you're crazy or a serial killer – it would be awkward …
Luckily I didn't let my mind stop at why I couldn't and so the counter argument's came . . . Um, late is late, what's an extra few minutes – just turn around right here and go back – just make sure you point out you're not a serial killer, that should work – also point out that you know it's awkward but that you want to help – Mia, you have to go back, you would want someone to see you …
So, I ignored the fear, turned around and drove back to where she was slowly walking with her head hung down. I pulled up beside her and my first words were, "Hi, um, I saw that you missed the bus back there and I hate when that happens – can I give you a ride somewhere? I must seem crazy and I'm not a serial killer or anything, I was just going to school and have some time … (I then trailed off into unintelligible mumbling)"
She came closer and I realized she was crying when she said, "I don't want to bother you."
"It's not a bother at all, I promise, where are you going?"
She got in and we proceeded to talk. Her name was Patty. She was trying to just get to the downtown trax station because she was meeting a friend in Sandy that she hadn't seen in years. She said when she missed the bus she became upset because she didn't have a cell phone and didn't know how she was going to tell the friend she was late. She told me that she had been out of work for a while and this friend was going to help her get started on finding a job. When she missed the bus she was beside herself. I told her I could take her to Sandy but she said the trax station was just fine. She was a great lady and even though I know we both felt a little awkward at times, it was such a blessing.
We parted ways ten minutes later and I pretty much floated up to school. It felt great to have done something for someone else and more than anything I was grateful to have seen her. She was a neat person and getting out of my head for ten minutes had allowed me to see my own life differently. Thing were hard but I wasn't alone in that, it was hard for her too and for everyone else at some point. The experience also taught me to probably leave out mentioning serial killers when you meet complete strangers ;), not useful and probably makes them more scared of you.
All joking aside, I needed that experience then and I needed the memory of it this week. Of course, what one gets out of service shouldn't be the reason to do it but it's not wrong to accept the good feelings that come. It's not wrong to feel happy that you were able to see another person. I have spent most of my life not feeling seen and the moments in which I have felt seen, I count as some of the most powerful for me.
Life is hard, friends. Everyone struggles and I believe most people are doing the best they can. Sometimes they hurt us or we hurt them and I wish that didn't happen but those mistakes are part of life. If you are struggling today, know you are not alone. If you are struggling today, know that you matter and are seen, even if you don't feel you are or do. Look outside yourself and find someone else to see and while it won't take away all of what is hard for you, it will help – I promise!
Find your Patty, there are always people waiting to be seen . . .