n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
I had never heard this word until recently, but that is probably because it is a word that was recently made up and has not yet been officially recognized by Webster (yet). What a truly beautiful word. A word that defines the complexity of other lives that exist outside of our own. Think about walking down the isles at the grocery store and imagine that every single person in the store that you pass has a life as complex as your own. Think about the battles you have fought in your own life and then think about how many times you may have been in the same place as many other people battling the same thing. Not always the same exact thing, but battles of their own.
This word brought me to write this because I think it sheds light on the statement that everyone is battling something that we have no idea about. I have heard that phrase so many times in my life, but I guess I never really understood it in a deeper context until recently. Let me explain how I came to this understanding…
In September I had a miscarriage. My family was at the beach on vacation when it happened. It was devastating. We came home a day early from our trip and I had a few days off after that before I had to return to work. I work from home and was so thankful that I did not have to face people in a public setting. Only a few of my coworkers knew that I was even pregnant. However, many others had no idea and when I returned from vacation, they asked me how our trip went. I responded with “good, we had a nice time” even though it was undoubtedly the worst vacation I had ever been on.
When I did have to face people, I would put a smile on my face and carry on like everything was fine. People would say “how are you doing” and I would say “good” even though I wanted to say “Horrible, I just had a miscarriage.” How many times in your life do you think you have asked someone how they were doing and they wanted to break down in tears and tell you exactly how they were feeling, but instead they said “good.” Probably a lot more than you think.
At the beach, the morning after we found out we had lost the baby, my husband and I woke up and sat out on our patio and sipped on some coffee. It was very early; the sun was just coming up. Our son woke up and joined us on the patio. He was throwing Cheerios to the birds and they were flocking to the outside of our patio railing which was connected to the outdoor pool deck. It was such a sweet moment and our son, who had just turned 3, was so excited.
The lifeguard was walking around outside unlocking gates and preparing for the day. She marched over to our patio and took it upon herself to yell at our son for throwing Cheerios to them. My husband pointed out to her that there were no signs/restrictions on feeding the birds, but that we would stop him from doing so. She replied “Well I’m the one who has to clean up the bird poop so don’t let him do that.” She had a valid reason for not wanting my son to feed the birds, but her delivery was terrible. We were both so angry at our encounter with her but we didn’t have the energy to be confrontational. I just couldn’t believe that this grown woman would walk over and yell directly at our son. We saw this woman working for a few days and her interactions with other guests were just as brash. I couldn’t help but to think to myself that if she knew what we were going through maybe she wouldn’t have been so nasty. I then had the thought that maybe she was going through something in her own life that is having a negative impact on her ability to control her emotions and we were the unfortunate target of her misdirected anger.
It’s hard in situations like that to consider what the other person may be feeling and why they may have treated you unfairly. If you make it a conscious effort to think about it though, it will help you to better react to people when they are mean and hasty towards you. Afterall, your life is more about how you react to the things that happen to you than the things that actually happen to you. If you spill your coffee in the morning, are you the person who lets it ruin their day or do you see it as an opportunity to make a fresh hot new cup or maybe stop at Starbucks and get a fancy drink on your way to your destination instead.
This seems like such an easy concept, but it really is not. So many people struggle with empathy. It is hard for people who are not empathetic to put themselves in another person’s shoes.
I am going to give you something to think about to help drive this concept home. Think about the worst thing you have ever went through in your life, or even just a really bad time in your life. Then I want you to think about how and when you had to go on with life after that. Did you have to go to work, to school, the grocery store? Think about how moments of grief or disappointment may have snuck up on you and clogged your mind and you felt like you wanted to shut down, but you had to keep living life. How did you treat other people when you felt that way? How did other people treat you? Thinking about this has changed my perspective and so many interactions I have had with other people. When people are nasty, I always think “I wonder what is going on in their life that they are treating other people like that” and I don’t let their words or actions have a negative impact on my day.
The next time you ask someone how things are going and they say “good” consider that they might not be good at all. On the other hand, if someone asks you how things are going, never be afraid to tell them how you really feel in that moment. Angels exist in this world everywhere, sometimes in the form of strangers.
My whole point is to just be nice to people, always. Choose to be Kind always.
Even when people are so mean and unkind to you, be kind to them anyways. I promise it will have a positive effect on you, and being kind to a person when they didn’t deserve it may have an effect on them as well. You never know what someone is going through. We are all survivors of some sort. That means something different for every single person.
Most people have survived a path that not everyone understands.