Okay, for several of you, about three paragraphs into this post, you’re going to think, “He’s talking about me!” And that “me,” in case you didn’t catch it, is shrill and outraged. Honestly, though, this is something everyone needs to hear, often. It’s not directed at or wholly inspired by any one of you. (No, not even you.) But, if it happens to speak to your own life, now, take it to heart and be glad at the coincidence that placed words into your life right where they belonged.
I’m just sayin’, is all.
But here’s the thing: everyone you encounter in your life is a person.
I need some snappier way of saying that, a clever phrase that will stick in your head and pop into your thoughts right when it’s needed. Maybe before this post is through I’ll come up with one. For now, though, we’ve gotta settle with the boring, apparently obvious “everyone you encounter in your life is a person.”
That’s a big deal, though. We live our lives inside the first-person point-of-view that so many authors have discarded as being too limited in scope. Each of us sees his life as his own story, and all the people he encounters along the way are just characters, just plot developments that push his story this way or that. Some of them we love for the impact they have on our lives. Some of them we hate, for the same reason. And the named characters keep coming back, keep affecting our lives in different ways, so maybe our feelings about that person change, shift, over the course of the story.
Even so, making another human being into a dynamic character in your story isn’t enough.
Because, behind his eyes, he’s living his own story. He’s got a whole world, a whole life of his own to live. He’s conscious and aware and trying to live his life well. Where it intersects with yours, there is conflict. In writing, we refer to all of these intersections as conflict. It could be a fistfight or an embrace, but it’s still conflict. It’s two stories trying to come to terms enough for each of them to move on, in their own directions.
This post isn’t about the story metaphor, though. In fact, my main point is that the story metaphor completely defines most of our lives, and it’s totally wrong. Or, rather, dangerously limited in scope.
Everyone you encounter — whether it’s a friend, a loved one, or a perfect stranger — everyone you encounter is living a whole life, is a person encountering you at the same time. And every one of us (I’m convinced of this) is trying to live a good life. What exactly that means changes from day to day, but every one of us is trying to live a good life.
I know you are. Right now, you are.
And yet, even so, you make mistakes. You say something offhand to someone you really care about, and it’s just devastating to them. You’ve done that, without ever meaning to offend, and you’ve seen the impact it had on their lives.
You act, trying to do something good (or at least something pleasant), and years later you see how your own actions are impacting the lives of people you’ve met, people you care about. Sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways, and you never really know which will be which.
Sometimes you just act like a jerk. I’m not accusing you, I’m just reminding you of something you know is true. Sometimes you’re in a bad mood, and something touches you off, and you just act like a total jerk. It’s a short-lived thing (because you’re not a jerk), and next moment you’re back to trying to live a good life.
And that’s okay. Life is a learning experience. You try to get better as you go along, which is the same as saying that, all the time, you’re trying to live a good life.
Now…change perspectives. Think of someone you encountered yesterday. It can be a stranger, or it can be your spouse. But think of someone specific. Think of someone you encountered yesterday, and realize that that person was trying to live a good life. That person was an awareness behind his eyes, looking out on the world and making decisions about it. Maybe he said something that hurt your feelings. Maybe he acted, in a way that will impact your life down the line (for good or bad). Maybe he was just a complete jerk.
But he wasn’t doing any of those things to you, y’see? He’s living his life, just like you’re living yours. He was making decisions, and maybe floundering and maybe just shining like the sun. We do that, sometimes, too. You do that, more often than you realize. You’re just going along, trying to live a good life, and out of nowhere, BAM!, you actually do. You flare up like a nova, and shed beautiful light on the lives of everyone around you.
I’ve seen you do it. Otherwise I wouldn’t have invited you to read my blog.
And think about your own life. Sometimes you’re awesome. Sometimes you’re horrible. Through it all, though, remember that you’re a Child of God. You are this amazing thing, this beautiful, boundless potential, and you’re living a life learning how to live up to that potential. Remember that you are everything that you could one day be. You are the brilliant, shining moments, and the cost of becoming that, the very process of becoming that, necessarily includes the sleazy, cruel, selfish moments, along with all the rest.
And that stranger who just cut you off in traffic? He’s the same thing. That’s one of his bad moments, but he’s a Child of God, and you had better believe that there’s times he glows in radiant beauty. The same is true of everyone you meet. Every person, every single person, is a little bit of divine spark trying to learn how to shine. And all of them are seeing the world through their own faulty eyes, trying to guess what it all really means (just like you do), and making decisions, and making bad choices, and stumbling through today because, please, maybe tomorrow will be better.
That includes people close to you. That includes your Mom or your Dad. It includes boyfriends and girlfriends and spouses and siblings and children who just won’t treat you like you deserve. They’re looking at a world they can’t quite get, they’re fending off frustrations and trying to find their purpose and wrestling with the injustice of it all, and when you cross their path, when you enter their life, they make a decision that will impact you.
And it may be good, and it may be bad. Switch perspectives again. You encounter someone in your life, someone important to you, someone you care about, and you make a decision that will impact that person’s life. It may be good, it may be bad. You want it to be good, but you know from long, long experience, that there’s equal chances something will go wrong.
All of us, every one of us, is trying to live a good life. It’s fair to be hurt when someone hurts you. It’s fair to be annoyed at someone acting like a jerk. But remember, always remember, every single one of those people is a little bit of divine spark, trying to learn how to shine.
I challenge you, personally, to try to see that in people. Try to see people as people, wherever you encounter them, not just as characters in the story of your life. Try to remember who they are.
And, in a very specific application of this, here’s your homework. Think of someone you care about, and who you know cares about you. Someone who has hurt you so bad that you almost discarded them from the list when I said, “and who you know cares about you.” Think about that person, and the thing he or she did to hurt you.
And think about a time when you made a choice about someone important to you, and you hurt them. Whether you meant to hurt them or not, you made a choice that hurt their lives.
Dwell upon these two things, and find the space behind this person’s eyes. Find the space inside his or her own mind, where the offense happened. And try to recognize it for what it was, rather than what it became within your life.
Please? For me?