Monday’s Meditation: On Secret Struggles, Self Development & The Key To A Kind Society
I can’t tell you why, other than maybe people sense that I’m very good at keeping secrets, but I have been a person to whom people reveal their secrets. I remember Grown Ups entrusting me with serious information when I was a Child. In high school, I remember being given a ride home by a girl who, unprompted, divulged that her family was in crisis. Her dad had been having an affair with a woman in another city. He had had a child with her. There had been double-life living and now, life-shattering. I remember so many confidential details revealed that I can recall hardly any of them in particular.
All this to say that I am very aware of the silent, secretive struggles perpetually being endured.
Even still, as I sit across the table from a sweet and cheerful woman, I am surprised when she spontaneously tells me that she was a member of a church-turned-cult, the name of which she doesn’t want to tell me for fear of freaking me out. The leader, she tells me, lowering her voice to a whisper, “sexually…” [“abused?” I aid. She nods.] “The girls. And I was one of the girls.”
“How old were you?” I ask.
“Sixteen,” she blinks, and for a moment her eyes fill with tears.
She tells me about how confusing it was to learn that everything she thought was true wasn’t, how scary it is, in hindsight, to have pledged herself so devoutly to a criminal in apostle’s clothing.
As she speaks, I feel my heart do that thing hearts can’t help but do when they learn about another person’s struggle: it opens up and makes a place that wasn’t there before. I would have done any kindness she asked of me right then.
This fun, ambitious, remarkably genuine woman hadn’t just turned out that way. She hadn’t merely never been tainted. She didn’t have such wide-eyed enthusiasm merely because she hadn’t yet been tested, or because she hadn’t experienced real challenges.
She was all of those things in large parts in spite of her backstory. She was a living example of love and grace triumphing over vileness. And, most importantly, she wasn’t allowing her backstory to define her. She was engaged in the deliciously daunting process that is rewriting oneself.
“You’re incredible.” I told her, meaning it.
Kindness and respect flow naturally in the presence of genuine humanity, and nothing reveals that more than learning a person’s backstory.
Everyone has a backstory.
We know this and yet we are forever forgetting it.
More often than not, the people we would last suspect to have been through extreme emotional turmoil are the ones who have crawled their way out of the trenches, their knees bruised and bloody, their bodies covered in mud. They are the ones who sit before us, smiling, telling us how excited they are, how grateful they are, how much they love their apartment, and gardening, and adventuring.
If we knew each other’s backstories, maybe we’d be a more compassionate society. Maybe we would forgive others more readily, and lead with our own egos less regularly.
Maybe we would marvel at how people who now appear to have it all together fought like hell to get there. We would love one another based purely on our collective ability to adapt and transform and strive.
But it isn’t realistic, I suppose, to expect we’ll learn how everyone we meet with came to be. Your bra saleswoman; you probably aren’t interested in her life story. Your grocery cashier; they probably don’t have time to share theirs.
But the safest and most beneficial assumption we can make is that everyone we encounter has a backstory, a past riddled with challenges they have done, and are doing, their best to leverage for good.
It is there whether or not we know the details, or the hints of any.
A person presupposes a trajectory.
Kindness and respect are compulsory.
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