The chorus of the song “Another Man’s Shoes” by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors goes:
Everyone’s got their own set of troubles
Everyone’s got their own set of blues
Everyone’s got their own set of struggles
Walk a mile in another man’s shoes
I first met Nancy about two years ago at a care center where I volunteer. Nancy was in a wheelchair and had a lot of spunk (as my wife called it). Over the next two years, we saw her decline in health to the point that she no longer moved on her own and spent more time asleep than awake, and was very rarely coherent, but she still had a smile in her eyes that could make you feel happy and have no more cares. When I attended her funeral recently, I met her children and heard her life story. I was amazed at the life she led and the many talents she had developed as a model, athlete, and mother.
Mary is another woman residing at the care center. Mary has a disease that makes her look extremely old, and she spends most of her time in a recliner curled up in a ball. She is often awake, but there is little recognition in her eyes. Mary’s husband is constantly by her side, and from him, I learned that before Mary contracted the same disease that two of her sisters also have, she was the head of a major, national medical supply company. A very accomplished woman.
From these women, I learned that we can often draw conclusions about people without really understanding their back story. When we meet others that are struggling or annoy us, do we really understand their background and their reasons for how they act or what they do? A good example of this is that I often get very frustrated with drivers that are going much too slow on a one-lane road in front of me. At least I did until I learned Dee’s backstory.
Dee has a condition where his blood is very thick, and he must take blood thinners just to survive. Either the thick blood or the medications cause him to feel like he is driving extremely fast in his car when his speed is much slower than it appears to him. He white knuckles the steering wheel at speeds that, for most, are common and not extreme. So, to be safe, he goes at speeds where he feels like he is in control of the vehicle. I have learned that there is probably a very good reason why the person in front of me may be going slower than I would prefer.
When most people met (I will call her Susan) for the first time, they felt she was extremely crazy and annoying. The first time I met Susan, she was telling everyone around her that they needed to get the local university to replace all the lights on campus because they were destroying the brains of the students. She was in her late thirties and was aggressively pursuing 19-year-old students to marry. Because of her aggressive and erratic behavior, others were very cautious when she was around. After several months and a lot of frustration for many, she disappeared. After several days of searching, she was found in the mountains by a small lake where she had taken her life with an overdose of medication. I spoke with her mother later that day, and she expressed to me that Susan was at peace for the first time in her life. From her mother, I learned that Susan had had a traumatic brain injury when she was very young and had been tormented with mental illness problems her entire life. She had a young, 8-year-old son that she could not visit and literally no friends. During her life, she had tried multiple times to end her life but had been rescued until this last, final time. None of us realized the constant torture Susan was going through.
I am learning that when I am impatient or critical of others, I need to take a step back and realize I don’t know what they have been or are going through.
My wife often reminds me when I get frustrated with the way others drive. She tells me that I really don’t know what they have going on now, so I need to be patient.
I think it is great that we are all so different, but with that comes our own unique challenges and experiences. When we make fun of others, are impatient, or are hesitant to help, do we really know them? Do we know why they are the way they are and do things the way they do them?
I know a woman who grew up in the South side of Chicago and has been working to get out of a toxic life environment. Her experiences help me realize that I don’t know much about the challenges of others.
Before we make snap judgments about others, we should recall the final line of the chorus,
"Walk a mile in another man’s shoes."
I think it is great that we are all so different, but with that comes our own unique challenges and experiences.