Life is full of lessons, absorbed in ever-changing contexts. Lessons you learn in the past often are replaced by lessons learned in the present and future. I have learned and re-learned so many things in the last several months, it’s difficult to put them in order.
But what is the biggest lesson I have learned?
I still judge.
The pain and adversity I have experienced with my diagnosis has opened my mind and changed my values in many ways, but I still make judgments about other people. I assess their decisions, their actions, their hobbies or their appearances, and I pass judgment on them. I do it because I am human. It’s how we find our way through the crowd, how we define who we are.
A short time after I was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome I went to a ballgame with my best friend. I still felt overwhelmed by my situation, uncertain about my life and the future, hurting terribly. I was in a vulnerable place, a place with no room to make judgments or apply labels to anyone else.
When the game was over, I held onto my friend as we rode the Metrolink back to where our car was parked. I had never traveled on the Metro and the subway platform was crowded. I searched for the closest spot to where the train would pull up. When I spied an opening, I excused myself to a group of people standing in front us to move past them. I didn’t realize they actually were standing in line.
Startled by my abruptness, they moved aside and my friend and I passed to move to the open spot. After standing there for a few moments, I realized the people we passed were taunting me, loudly. They mocked the way I said “excuse me.” They harassed me for thinking I was better than them, for jumping ahead of them in line, for being young, tall, etc. Soon other people in the crowd chimed in with the taunting. I was crushed and mortified.
They were making assumptions about what kind of person I was, about my actions and my intentions, about my character. To that crowd, my behavior was calculated, thoughtless, selfish and arrogant.
In truth, I was simply unfamiliar with my surroundings and unaware I was acting inappropriately. It was nothing more than an innocent mistake. I never looked down on anyone, never thought it was my privilege to “butt” in front.
In truth, I thought I was getting a grasp of my independence again, taking charge of a situation, helping my friend get to her car more quickly. I made a decision for myself and my friend, I acted on an opportunity that seemed beneficial, with no intention of inconveniencing anyone else. But my actions were deciphered and judged by people who had no way of knowing what I was thinking.
A lifetime of flashbacks rushed through my mind. I thought of all the times I had tried to minimize someone’s intentions and evaluate someone’s actions so I might feel better about my own insecurities or inadequacies. I was sick to my stomach as I realized I was no different than those people taunting me on the subway platform.
I know that nothing in life is black and white. When judgments are made, they are made by ignoring all the gray in the middle, by seeing things in a manner that makes us more comfortable. How could life ever be so transparent?
The world I know is completely different than the world you walk in. My experiences overlap those around me, as do yours, as do the people you know and people you don’t know. Life is a matrix of actions, experiences and emotions. The only category that truly can be applied is an unmarked category, one with no labels and no assumptions, one with lots of questions and no simple answers.
In the past few weeks, I have learned that in life we need to know this – we are infinite. The life we create for ourselves is entirely up to us. No matter what happens, nobody can ever be inside your body and experience the things you experience, the happiness and heartaches, the challenges and achievements.
No one else can think the thoughts you think. No one can completely understand why you make choices you make, feel the things you feel, know the things you know. I believe when people judge your character, your integrity or your choices, they truly are judging themselves. They do so because they don’t know what it’s like to be in your shoes, they don’t understand where you are in life’s matrix.
Love them, even when they judge you.
Make decisions with your own heart, your own mind, and with the best of intentions. When life opens a door, when it presents an opportunity for understanding, a chance to connect the many dots of uncertainties and idiosyncrasies, take the chance.
Embrace it with all humility and compassion. And accept that the choices you make, the opportunities you take, will not be understood by everyone. Some will judge, some will see your undertaking from their own black and white world, their own choices, their own opportunities.
They won’t understand, try to understand them.
Be passionate in the love, excitement, and new lessons the opportunity gives you. Everything in life is a precious gift, blessings sometimes arrive in unconventional ways, at unexpected times.
Know this, and life will show you its infinite capacity for peace and joy.