I will remember to look out for her…the woman whose shoes look a little too worn and whose clothes have a pinhole or two.
I won’t judge her or spend too much time silently wondering about the source of her burdens, but I will recognize her need to be cloaked in empathy. Maybe her need won’t show so overtly in her dress; maybe it will be hidden in stress-driven bags under her eyes. Maybe her strife will appear in her gait; maybe she walks with the heaviness of sorrow.
Possibly she is telling me outright in the way she politely excuses herself from the moderately-priced activity we’re meeting up for later. Maybe it’s clear when she doesn’t perk up like the rest of us when we’re talking about our summer vacation plans.
I may not know her very well, but I will notice when her side of the conversation lulls as I talk about my new dishwasher, the three enrichment classes my kids are taking, or the weekend away to the mountains. I will see those flickers of sadness in her eyes.
I will stop and be more in tune to how she must feel. I will truly envision what it would be like to worry about paying for secondhand clothes or used toys for my kids, foregoing any purchases for myself in favor of their needs. I will visualize the cringe she tries to hide in her lips and her eyes as the cashier scans her groceries. The silent prayer she begs to the imaginary deity of spare change and overdraft fees. She knows that things could be worse; she could have no money at all.
No food at all.
I won’t ask her why she isn’t working. Won’t look at her quizzically and question why her husband doesn’t have a better or second job, or why she can’t just get a loan from someone or somewhere.
I’ll remember that it is none of my business.
My place in her life is to provide a reliable shoulder for leaning upon. Not to judge or ask her questions that may be impossible or even painful to answer. I won’t first place blame on her lack of higher education, or her husband’s drive to provide for his family. I won’t pretend to know what life is like inside their four walls when she may live in fear of losing the roof over their heads. I will not make assumptions about what misfortune brought them to this place.
I won’t offer her a basic, obvious solution, intrinsically showing her that she is stupid and unaware of how easy it would be to pull herself out of the rut. I will accept the truth that it is not a rut. It is not as simple as pulling—she must dig, claw, and drag her family to a life as comfortable as the one I am living. It took her months or years to get to this place, it may take her years to attain a normal life again.
If she is a friend, I will think twice before I jokingly comment on her outfit that is a few seasons past its prime. I will not invite her to places that cost money unless I am prepared to also offer to pay her way. Not because she is a charity case but because I am moving about this universe with compassion. If I cannot offer to pay her way, I will suggest we do something that costs nothing. Not because I pity her but because I will act deliberately…as a friend should.
Choosing valuable moments spent as a mindful companion over self-serving and fleeting experiences.
While we are sitting and chatting, as friends do, I will be an active listener. I will not compare her struggles to mine, pretending that they contend with each other. Pretending my pain is the same as hers. I will not be making to-do lists in my head or daydreaming about my next hairdo; I will be present.
More than anything I will resist my natural urge against embracing her hardship. I will look at her pain head-on and I will shove aside that uncomfortable pit in my stomach as she bares her circumstances with honesty and hope. At minimum, I will give her as much contemplation and reflection as I give far away cases of destitution and misfortune. Her desperation is right in front of my face. I will tell her that I know her burdens feel like the responsibilities of many lifetimes.
Her mind must be riddled with anxieties about bills and expectations she can’t meet. I will choose to understand. When the conversation is light, I will still remember that her life is not uncomplicated. She enjoys talking about fun things, of course, but all of the details of my latest shopping excursion may be insensitive. Even though she knows it’s not my objective, showing her a photo book of my beach vacation may make those feelings of inferiority rise to the surface.
It will take extra effort to be aware before I speak; nevertheless I will be considerate.
Before I say goodbye and get into my comfortable new minivan with my kids safely buckled into their carefully researched car seats, I will remember to insist on helping her. She bundles up her bags and things I don’t have to carry on my person because I have the benefit of a vehicle. She carries and guides her kids to the city bus stop in a suburban town where the lack of car is a palpable disadvantage. I will think of how she must be worried about their safety as they ride on her lap at the complete mercy of a driver she’s never met. I will respect her ability to tackle her errands though everything takes three or four times as long.
I will emphasize once again that she does not need pity but the active kindness of people who love her.
I will send light her way. I will devote time to envisioning how I can be of service to her—consistently, openly, and without reciprocity. I will act on that vision. I will consider the resources I delegate to the insignificant or distant and I will assess my ability to reallocate in her direction. I will give because I see a need.
I will see the need.
I will not conveniently ignore her for the sake of saving my tears. I will cry for her.
I will feel the need.
I will not let my attachment to money or the stigma of its exchanging hands without receiving anything in return shield my ears from her truth.
I will hear the need.
I won’t be guided by the fallacy that I can do more good for people I can’t see or further benefit intangible causes.
I will hear the need.
In the past—too many times—have I let the plea go unnoticed. Have I neglected to acknowledge my position as a servant to the women I call friends. In the future, when I see the woman with shoes a little too worn and strife in her gait, I will be the receptive and benevolent friend she needs. In the present, I am that woman. I am the one with the cringe at the checkout line I am the one with a series of mysterious misfortunes. I am the mother praying for the bus driver to keep my children safe. I am the woman hoping that someone who loves me will see the signs of need.
One day, I will stand on the bright white porch of my painstakingly chosen house watching the loves of my life as they chase and tackle. I will lean against the brick wall of the home that I went through hell and back to secure for them and I will bask in the sunshine and delight in the truth that our tables have finally turned. My brilliant sons will wave to me, their smiles like sunshine, their stress from years prior dissolved. Their clothes are new, their shoes are not secondhand, their lives have changed. I will wave back and, as I catch a glimpse of the arm of my sweater, I will notice that there are no pinholes.
There are no little imperfections of the poor and unfortunate.
The car in the driveway doesn’t tell of days past, trudging along from the bus stop with sleepy babies in my arms. However, the absence of imperfection—the lack of pinholes in my sweater, the full refrigerator in my kitchen—will remind me to look out for her. The friend or acquaintance who is down on her luck and worried about her place in life. She’s not so poor that anyone or any service will help her yet not privileged enough to be standing where I am. When I am tempted to feel inconvenienced by the very thought of her troubles, I will shove the absurdity aside and acknowledge that I can help. When she is open and honest and I am uncomfortable and humbled, I will remember what it was like to be in her worn shoes…
and I will act graciously in her favor.
Author: Lauren Dillard
Apprentice Editor: Lois Person/Editor: Travis May
Image: Author’s Own