I leave very soon for another country, and I’ve been wracking my brain for a topic to write about this week. I was hoping for something brief and absurdly funny, because my last two posts were longish and…emotional? I was going to say “deep,” but that seems ever-so-slightly self-aggrandizing.
But, despite the fact that several funny things have happened lately, nothing felt right.
And then today I saw the woman walking down the street again.
I live on the edge of a very nice neighborhood, where families and doctors and lawyers live. Don’t worry, I rent. Thinking about the downpayment on this house makes my head hurt.
Anyway, our neighbors are mostly polite people in their 50s-60s who spend their mornings reading the paper in the shade of a 70-year-old oak tree they pay someone to trim every six months. They’re neither particularly friendly nor particularly distant. They just are.
And then on Monday, as I was getting into my car to go to work, I saw a woman walking down the sidewalk. She was probably in her late 40s, thin, and looked…well-bred. Is that a thing I can say? Picture someone that hosts garden parties and knows the exact rules of etiquette for wedding invitations. It wasn’t the way she was dressed, it was in the way she carried herself, the way her hair and skin looked. Like a Kennedy, if they’re still around.
But she wasn’t dressed like one. My immediate thought was that she had borrowed her son’s basketball shorts. Much too big, rolled up at the top. She had on knee-high compression socks and giant white sneakers. And she was using a cane to walk slowly, one careful step at a time, down the sidewalk.
I tried not to stare. She just looked so out of her element. It felt like I was intruding on an incredibly vulnerable moment. I started my car and drove away. I moved on with my day.
But then, the next morning, there she was. The ugly compression socks were gone, but she was in the same outfit otherwise. I found myself wondering if this was the first time in her life she’d worn the same clothes two days in a row. Every step she took looked painful, and I saw her stop and look around, like she was resting but choosing to take in the scene around her instead of being frustrated at her slow movement.
The next day she had replaced her basketball shorts with dress shorts.
Yesterday she had replaced her giant white sneakers with small, designer sneakers.
And each day she moved a little faster, just a tiny bit more comfortably.
Today she looked every inch the socialite, from her polo shirt to her crew socks.
But still the cane. Still the careful movements. Still the vulnerable humanity on a city sidewalk.
I tell you about this woman because I learned from her. I can’t even explain why, and perhaps my observations were false. Maybe I made up a story that wasn’t true about her, just based on impressions. But even so, I learned from that story, and I want to share those things with you:
- Your physical state doesn’t take away your identity. Who she was didn’t change. Despite her pain, her clothes, her obvious out-of-comfort-zone situation, I could tell what kind of person she was, because it was so deeply ingrained in her.
- You don’t need to be afraid to let people see that you are hurt, or that you are recovering. She was obviously hurting, obviously recovering from something, and I didn’t feel any desire to mock her or judge her. What I felt was impressed. Impressed at her determination, her patience, and her vulnerability.
- Don’t give up. No matter how slow, no matter how painful, no matter how embarrassing, keep walking. Use the cane if you need to. But keep walking.
My friends, may you have the courage and confidence to approach life the way that woman approached this week. Don’t give up hope. Ever.