“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
I read an article about how many lies humans say by the time they hit their 60s. Out of the speculated number of 66,000, one lie is “I’m fine.” The article was slanted toward civic responsibility and community building. And I get it. I have the art of “I’m fine” down. But, when I take a moment to dig in, there is powerful truth in the acceptance of that “lie.”
In this month’s What I Know feature, Scott Brewer says, “I know it’s important to hear the answer when you ask someone how their day is. So many people have an amazing story to yarn and so few people have the time to hear them tell it.” Perhaps “I’m fine” wouldn’t be our default answer if we knew those around us had time or interest in another response. People desire to be heard, they desire to be seen. In the simple act of pause—of engagement—we send a message of worth and importance to one another. Much of self-worth must be mustered from within, I know this. But not every flower is born and raised in a greenhouse; some do their best to bloom in a field of weeds. And science says helping others makes us happier humans, altruism can be a beautiful thing.
A moment from a year ago has stayed with me. After Hoopfest, I stopped by the Hico Market in the Perry District to buy my basketballer son, ManCub, the largest slushie we could find. As he filled his whopper of a container with a mix of sugary madness, a mama and her clutch of four kiddos under the age of four walked in. They were recovering from a rough day. Their mama was frazzled, and she was doing her best to remain patient to their bickering over who would get first sip from the medium slushie they were to share.
The cup slipped from the hands of the first little boy as he took his sip, and half of the drink spilled down his legs. Tears burst from his siblings as their mom explained she only had money for that one drink, so they would each need to take smaller sips now. As my giant child stepped around the pack of kiddos, I followed behind him and paused by the mom to quietly offer to buy each of them their own. “Oh, you don’t have to do that,” she said.
“But I would love to,” I said. “And I can help them with their cups while you grab whatever else you need.” She said she was in-between checks and the father of the children hadn’t come back after a disagreement a week before, so she’d come to offer the kids a treat to help break up the stress they had all been feeling. “I have a little extra money this week, so I can help with a few things,” I said. “I know how tough it can be when money is tight and we moms have to stick together.”
She told the kids that “this nice lady” had offered to buy them each their own drink. “Rwearry?” they asked, energy rising and eyes as bright as the sun. I hung out with the clutch while she shopped for some groceries, and called ManCub back to help me put the dome lids on and choose their flavors and straws. As I knelt down to clean the slurpie off of the legs of the little boy who had spilled the first cup, one of the little girls began to rub my back. I turned my chin toward her, and her eyes sparkled back toward mine as though she were looking at an angel.
The sweetest feeling of love and peace washed over me, and my heart broke and burst in one swoop. I could see the struggle of her day, perhaps weeks of it, and reassuringly smiled back at her. I can still feel her little hand on my back, I can still see her eyes and her mind registering the care from a stranger, from being seen. Tears come easily to me as I think of that mama and her littles, and I often pray to God and the universe to love and protect them, for their mom to be empowered, and for their family to know and feel their inherent worth no matter their challenges.
It is an honor to share in those moments with others. It is an honor and a privilege to see and to be seen. I don’t want this to be a remarkable thing in our community—I hope it to be . . . how we relate to and care about and connect with one another. And I challenge all of us to continue to be aware of those around us and for opportunities to contribute positively to others.
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