One day, just a normal day, my friend was moving through the classroom, helping individual students work through a math problem. When she came to one student’s desk she suddenly noticed his hands. She found herself unable to stop staring as he worked through the problem. His fingernails were chewed down to the flesh. Some had even started bleeding, the nails permanently disfigured. This was an aha moment of sorts for her. She had just bumped into the awareness that this child, whom she knew only as a student in her 3rd hour math class, had a whole world, a whole life with its own joys and sorrows.
I know, seems like common sense, right? The idea that everyone has their own world?
I had a similar moment this week when someone posted a class photo of me when I was in the 4th grade. I looked closely at those little faces, all attached to worlds I certainly didn’t know much about then, or even now for that matter.
In the age of social media, we have access to people’s lives in a way we never would have before. I know what some of you made for dinner last night. I know some of you have traveled to some cool places. I know some of you are obsessed with horses, blew up your Yeti coolers, are dealing with serious illness. And at the same time, I don’t know what some of your middle names are or where exactly you live.
My friend experienced a rush of compassion in her aha moment. Though she didn’t suddenly pepper her student with questions, the awareness was there. He was dealing with his own story. She didn’t have to know all of it or even judge it, but it was there. And like him, she too had her own story.
For all the talk about how Facebook has divided us, compromised us, irritated us, the fact of the matter is that it also has the ability to strengthen the compassion muscle we all carry within.
How we can begin to exercise compassion, how we can become more curious, how we can use those chewed-fingernail moments to unite us, to help us connect through the very real human condition we all share?
Though I didn’t blow up a cooler, I do know what it’s like to have something I believe in strongly and I do know what it’s like to protest when that ideal is threatened. I do know what it’s like to love deeply, to want to be seen and heard, to suffer, to celebrate. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We may have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” Or, as I would inelegantly add, I may not like the way you play that violin, baby, but I sure can sit with you while you play. I can appreciate that for you, the violin just may be the greatest invention ever.
I hope today, in some some small way, you can connect with someone on this level. Not the people that are easy for you to connect with, the people that share your belief system or interests. I hope for a moment, in that still place inside you, you are able to look through the window of someone’s life and say,
“I get it.”
Big love to you, fellow travelers.