"We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It's one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it's another to think that yours is the only path." - Paulo Coelho
My kids attend a small elementary school. I mean intimately small: one class per grade. It's safe to say that after a couple of years there, it feels like you know pretty much every family. And, for better or for worse, much of their business. Well.
Last week our little group ventured out for our Terry Fox Walk. The principal handed out "I'm running for..." stickers, which the students pasted onto their shirts for the walk, and later used to create a mural on the gym wall. I noticed an array of sweet dedications -
...my friend's dog
...all people who have cancer
Along the way, I was walking beside a very quiet little boy, about five years old and easily the smallest child on the walk. It was swelteringly hot last Friday, and he was dressed in a dark, longsleeved shirt and pants. I fully admit that my first thought was a superior and judgmental Seriously, what careless mother sends her son out in 27 degrees - wearing this! As we stopped so I could roll up his sleeves, I noticed his sticker.
...for my little brother.
I awkwardly tried to chat with him but between the heat, his fatigue, and my feeling like a complete dumbass for being so ignorant and instantly judgy, we fell into silence. I gathered that he has spent more time than most of us at the Children's Hospital, but pressing this old soul for details felt too intrusive.
As we neared the end of the walk, I watched him light up and run to a young woman who was just arriving. She scooped him up, hugged him hard, and held him in her arms to the finish. I imagine she must have tried her hardest to be on time for this event.
She's the same mother I've seen many times at pickup but realized I have never actually met. Already emotional over Terry Fox, tears sprung behind my sunglasses as I felt ashamed for my initial assumptions. Watching her with her son, I was reminded that we just never know who walks alongside us while silently dealing with a world of pain that we can't begin to understand.
I have some work to do in order to make empathy my first instinct, rather than a rush to judge. You just. Never. Know.
Image via terryfox.org