Aging Gracefully, Uncategorized

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes

You know what I think??  It doesn’t matter what I think, except maybe to me, and that’s debatable these days.  However, because this is my blog, and I write whatever my head and heart tell me to, I am going to tell you what I am thinking about right now.

We all (meaning people of the world in general) need to get out more.  And by “get out” I mean travel in the traditional sense of the word, but I also mean get out of ourselves, our ideas, and opinions.  I personally think that we would all be a whole lot better off if we would walk in another’s shoes more often.  We become so caught up in our little microcosm that we forget that others have a very different perspective and a very different set of problems.  Because what we believe is correct for OUR life, we think that it is correct for someone else.

Let’s talk about what getting out can do to help us.  The more places you go and experience, the larger the world becomes.  The more OPEN you are to other’s perspectives, the more empathy gained.  In my experience, gratitude grows with empathy.  Being filled with gratitude is so much better than overflowing with anger and sadness which is what can happen after we experience rough times in our lives.  It is easy to turn inward and ask, “Why me?”  We all do it at some point, and that’s normal.  But if we have seen the struggles of others and realize that “Everyone’s Got Something” the self pity goes away much faster.  I can’t say that it makes loss any less painful; however, it does make it much less depressing.

I feel that my year this year has made me a kinder more empathetic person, and I fully believe that is because of all the places I’ve been both literally and figuratively.   I would trade that empathy in a heartbeat to have those I love back with me for another day, but I can’t say that I’m not grateful that this year has taught me so much about life, love, and human nature.  I’m not suggesting that we all need to have years like I just had to find empathy.  Definitely NOT!   I’m really hoping 2018 bring peace and contentment for me and my family; however, I can’t help but recognize the lessons I’ve learned from “getting out” this year.

This year I’ve been a teacher.  Seventh grade English.  Junior High kids.   Talk about needing empathy–for both the kids AND my fellow teachers and staff!  Remember when YOU were in 7th grade???  It’s kind of a difficult age!  By the way–I love them dearly, but any teaching job does require just a tiny little bit of patience!  Try to have some compassion for your child and for their teachers.  They can both use it!

This year I’ve been a caregiver to a cancer patient who also happened to be my husband.  My role as wife trumped caregiver most of the time, but sometimes it was difficult to be the caregiver.  Days of appointments and hospital stays, home infusions and medications, IV line care and dressing changes, plus nutritional needs can be tiring, but as I mentioned earlier, putting myself in someone else’s situation just made me grateful for mine.  I saw many other caregivers with much more difficult situations.  I only had to push my husband in a wheelchair and deal with an oxygen tank for a very short time.  B was strong and pushed himself physically far longer than many would have.  He also was always my husband which means that he never failed to make me laugh or think even when we had a tough day.   That’s a big deal.  Many caregivers live in a very lonely world.

I also was a caregiver to my mom for a very brief time.  Again, this was tough, but it taught me how amazing (like I didn’t already know) my dad is and how much my parents loved each other.  It also gently reminded me of how we need to enjoy every moment that we can because you just don’t know what is around the corner.  Life is short.

All this caregiving allowed me to see, talk with, and feel the pain and joy of many other patients and their families. Practically living in a cancer hospital can be very enlightening.   I saw many caring professionals  who sacrificed a lot to be with their patients and to be the best they could be.  This made me so grateful for the health care my husband received but also hyper aware of the needs of others and the messed up system we have.    My eyes were opened to so many situations that I had never even thought about or been aware of prior to B’s situation.   I’m grateful for that.  I hope that I can somehow help others or at least lend an ear if they need it as they travel this complicated road.

I had to plan two funerals this year for those closest to me, and it just so happened that since we didn’t have a traditional funeral for my husband, his memorial service was two days after my mom’s funeral.  In one weekend I got to see an outpouring of love and admiration for two of the people I love most.  It was an incredible and inspirational experience to see how others felt about them and feel their concern and kindness toward me and my family.

This year, I lived in a small city (Fort Smith, AR), a huge city (Houston, TX), and a small town (England, AR).  Talk about differences!   I don’t think it is something someone who hasn’t moved around or traveled much would even think about, but there is a quite a variation of viewpoints and priorities depending on where you live.  There are amazing wonderful people in all these places, and there are not so great or nice people in all these places; however, depending on the city, priorities are different.  Sometimes, I see folks who have never lived in a big city or vice versa putting down the other.  From what I’ve seen from being in all three, often people don’t try to understand the other but make judgments instead.  Why do we always tend to put down that which we haven’t experienced first hand or don’t understand?  More understanding in the world would be really nice, don’t you think?

This year I also got to experience my first (and hopefully last) hurricane/flood.  Again, this was a huge opportunity for growth in my being able to relate to others.  It’s easy to say things about what you would do in a situation until you are there in the midst of it.  Like many things in life, it has to be endured to truly understand.  Because of Harvey, I got to know many who lost much more than I which humbled me and made me extremely grateful for what I have.  I also got to see the heroic efforts, hard work and sweat, and generosity of complete strangers as well as neighbors and friends who helped any way that they could.

There you have some of my “getting out” moments from 2017.  I hope that 2018 brings some more traditional travel for me, and I can continue to learn from those experiences.  I also want to throw in a PSA for reading.   Books can expand the mind and perspective in similar ways as traveling the world. Just because you can’t leave your hometown or situation doesn’t mean horizons can’t be expanded.  No excuses for close-mindedness!   I plan to spend more time with my nose stuck in a book in the coming year.

I’ve seen so many of my old and new friends go through heartbreaking losses this year as well and that has opened my heart even more.   You just can’t live in your own little bubble of grief for long, no matter how nice and cozy it is.  Look around.  Really see others and their plight.  Try to meet them where they are.  Maybe if we all started meeting in the middle, we could have a better world.  We are still all humans created by the same God which means we are more alike than different.  We just need to find our common ground.

So, there’s my latest story or at least my version of the story.  That’s kind of my point of writing this post:  my version is completely different from someone else’s, and I’m a much better person if I acknowledge the difference.

empathy thoureau