I was taking myself on a solo road trip down the Oregon coast; I had just toured the factory and bought myself a T-shirt and way too much cheese.
There was a beautiful open courtyard outside the cheese factory, and it was a gorgeous sunny Oregon day. I decided to sit outside and people-watch for a while before heading to the beach.
At the table next to me, a large woman was sitting by herself, enjoying the sh*t out of an ice-cream cone she had bought herself. I marveled at how much she was truly enjoying herself at that moment. As I quietly sat, I observed people walking past her, giving her judgy sideways looks. I saw groups of people stare at her as they passed by, then snicker at each other as they got further away.
Like, how dare an obese woman enjoy an ice cream cone. She seemed pretty unfazed.
Later that day, I was at the beach. I found a big rock to climb up on with my journal so I could just sit, write, and get absorbed in the ocean’s energies for the evening. I had a pack of cigarettes with me too—my own guilty pleasure vice.
I lit a cigarette and sat in the quiet with the crashing waves, enjoying the sh*t out of it. A couple walked down the beach toward me, hand in hand, quite aways closer to the water than I was. As they walked past me, they both glanced up at me and gave me the dirtiest look.
Like, how dare someone enjoy a smoke here.
I stared out at the ocean and to the horizon beyond. I had been working through some difficult personal stuff at the time, hence the solo road trip, and throughout my adult life, the occasional cigarette had brought me an amount of stress relief that I felt was marginally better than drinking in the middle of the day. It just helped take the edge off. I enjoyed it.
I’m comfortable with my vices, and honestly, I didn’t feel like I needed to justify myself. I’m a goddamn adult; I can make my own decisions. Nobody knows what I’m going through.
This thought process streamed through me as these people walked by.
I thought back to the woman at the cheese factory. We don’t know what she was going through. Maybe this was her cheat day. Maybe she just finished an awesome workout, and this was her reward to herself. Maybe she’s already lost 50 pounds and hasn’t had ice cream in months? Maybe she just wanted some f*cking ice cream.
Who are we to judge?
We never really know who’s going through what. Our co-worker who snaps at us for no reason; our friend who cancels plans at the last minute; the homeless man on the corner who’s drinking a forty—or the woman smoking a cigarette by herself.
I’m not saying ice cream, cigarettes, or alcohol are healthy—trust me, I know they’re not. I know they’re crutches. I know they’re a side-effect of processing trauma. Where do we think addiction comes from, anyway?
I learned a lot that day. Instead of feeling shame or anger toward someone judging me, I worked on cultivating compassion. I know I’m not perfect, and I know that my vices are frowned upon.
I constantly work on myself to heal those parts of me that feel like they need a cigarette. Maybe if I could have explained to that couple why I was smoking that day, they could have cultivated some compassion too. But do I need to explain myself? Does that obese woman need to explain herself? Hell no.
Maybe instead of judging someone, we should just try to have some compassion instead.
Maybe they’re going through some serious stuff. Maybe that smoke is what’s keeping her from falling apart in that moment. Maybe after months of working through depression, that ice cream cone brings her a moment of joy. Maybe our co-worker is collapsing inside from pain and is starting to fall apart. Maybe our friend just can’t handle a social situation right now.
We never know when someone might be just barely hanging on—and they certainly don’t need us judging them for it. We all need compassion—even if it is completely unknown as to why.
Maybe someday you’ll need someone’s compassion too.