less judgment, more love
There's about three feet of snow on the ground and I see her struggling to make it home.
I'm walking the few feet from my car to my house and she is walking down the pathway in front of me with a bag in her hand that looks too heavy for her. She lives about six doors down from us so she has a ways to go before reaching her house. No more than 4'10" or 4'11", she walks hunched over and each step looks like her last. Time stands still as she drags her bag through the thick snow and I watch her, trying to will myself to offer help.
This is the lady who doesn't respond to good mornings and hellos. She walks past all the time and avoids eye contact. One time she called the police on the neighborhood kids, including mine, for running across her front lawn as they were playing tag. When a couple of us went over to make peace and talk to her about it, she wouldn't talk to us. Admittedly, I am not a fan and I don’t feel moved to help her.
I keep walking straight to my door and into my house like I don't see her.
This is what happens when we judge each other and let our actions be driven by the assumptions we make. We decide all kinds of things about people and sometimes we think it's harmless but life shows us how it hurts and it shows up in one way or another.
As soon as I shut the door to my house, I wanted to press rewind and go back and offer to help her. I didn't understand myself -- why would I do that? I hate seeing people sad or struggling and I have this bleeding heart that gets me in trouble so where did all that go? Where I would normally go out of my way to be helpful and to avoid seeing someone in distress, I realized that day how easy it was for me to turn that off. I saw a side of myself that wasn’t easy to see.
I don't know this woman. I don't know her life, her situation, what she's been through or what keeps her up at night. I know that I never see her with any visitors, I've never seen her smile and she has a gloominess about her. I only see her with the slow walking and the head down. That's all I know of her. Yet I've made assumptions about her worthiness based on my idea of how a person should interact with others and what a good neighbor is and I decided in that moment in the snow that she didn't deserve my kindness. I let her walk right past me, obviously struggling and I pretended not to see. It wouldn't have hurt me to offer help. Even if she would have ignored me or told me to go to hell, I could have tried. I could have offered her some light whether she chose to receive it or not.
Sometimes I'm just not brave enough to love as big as I want to. To express myself as honestly and sincerely as I want to. Kindness is not always reciprocated but I know I have it in me to be generous and compassionate anyway. It's in those uncomfortable moments, where my pride is challenged and my emotions are in conflict, where I see myself get scared and shut down. My ego tells me to protect myself or that I need something in return and my walls come up. But holding the love back is like swallowing too much air. I can't breathe right. I feel bloated. I know I don't want to be so full of my own righteousness that I can't make room for a simple act of kindness.
I want to make decisions out of love not fear and sometimes that just doesn't happen. My judgments and assumptions get in the way. I get caught up in keeping score. I'm thinking about what other people would do instead of channeling what feels right and meaningful for me. Anytime I let my motivation come from my ego and not my heart, there is a price.
When we constantly judge each other and keep score, we block love and stifle creativity. Being blind to this, we can easily find ourselves doing hurtful things like pretending not to see someone in need. Gossiping about someone whose life we don't understand. Wasting energy trying to be right, trying to have the last word. Riddling ourselves with assumptions and bumping into nonsense that wastes our time. In the long run, it keeps us in a box, afraid to love bigger than the walls we've built around ourselves.
I'm not trying to be perfect, but I am trying to love bigger and be more brave. I am paying attention to what life has to teach me.
This was originally posted in January 2016.