Through Their Eyes
I don’t write publicly very much anymore because I’ve felt drawn to spend the last couple of years listening. It’s been valuable to my soul to be silent more. I certainly don’t share things so intimate very often, but this morning I choose to share a piece from my journal written today in its unedited rawness. Oh, if only it might help just one person it would be worth the unpolished exposure of self.
This morning I dreamed that I was a young woman, destitute, and I was robbed of the one resource I had: a visa or gift card that had some money on it. I knew the identity of the robbers (3 young men in a small, beat-up red car, but my focus was the one in the back seat) and I knew what they had spent the money on (a night’s stay in a motel; they weren’t doing well themselves) but I didn’t feel that I had any recourse to get it back or call them to justice because I wasn’t in any kind of position of stability myself, with too many needs to focus on getting the one thing I needed. I was talking to some people when another young man, being silly and thoughtless, playfully splashed something on me that got my clothes (my only clothes) wet and dirty. I was livid because I had no way to get them clean and had been going to go to the judge to see if I could get my money back.
Something primeval bubbled up inside of me.
I picked up a rock and chased after him and yelled, “I had things to do today and I was CLEAN! I would take off your nose with this rock but you’re standing in front of the glass!” Recognition dawned in his eyes as he realized the scope of what he had done (playful to him but devastating to me) and he came back to me, all of a sudden not a youth but a handsome, strong man, and kindly began listening to my story and walking me through remembering any details that would help me in my situation. I could no longer remember the motel where the robbers had stayed, which was crucial because it would be easy enough to track the number on the card if I could. I kept seeing the card with the number emblazoned on it in my mind, though I don’t know that I ever saw any of the numbers specifically. That was when I awakened.
In dreams, to be robbed indicates an identity crisis and poverty the idea that you lack what you need to do (in my case, anything) what is next required of you. That my clothes were clean indicates that the one resource I had was my reputation and that was smeared by someone thoughtlessly and I had no way to remedy it. I was angry and wanted to do him harm (cut HIS nose off to spite his face, an even more dramatic insult to his appearance than he had done to me) because I was trapped, and in my communicating that and his truly listening the young man grew up and came to my aid. I think it’s interesting that I didn’t mind hurting him but didn’t want to damage the glass, a peculiar twist on the “throwing stones, living in glass houses” idea. Perhaps I could see the worldly reality that one will get in trouble for damaging property but not for damaging people and my one thing I had left was that I was not in trouble with the authorities – I was simply anonymously destitute. Understanding between us changed us both and he began to try with everything he had to help me and I began to trust him and see him differently.
I have been fighting back tears all morning because I see the truth of this. I knew when I woke up that I was seeing through this young woman’s eyes because that is the only way to truly understand people’s behavior. She was potentially very scary and really over-reacting, ready to do such damage to him for such a small thing. I don’t really feel destitute in any way in my life, and poverty is about so much more than money. I suppose there is always a vestige of fear in an imperfect person, a feeling that we don’t know what to do or feel we don’t have the ability to help or cannot remedy situations, but I felt as soon as I awakened that this was about empathy and a very real way to show me what others experience.
When people cast stones it’s out of fear and a feeling that they have no other recourse and nothing to lose. In my case in the dream, I only had one thing to lose and that was my state of being not in trouble with anyone, and that was what stopped me from casting the stone. For others it might be something else that stops them from flying off the handle. People hold onto what they can’t afford to lose. Although it was anger and a desire to hurt that I communicated, it was communication, and his attempt to understand that opened the way for a different relationship and the opportunity to truly resolve things for both of us.
It wasn’t personal to him when the young man in the back seat stole my last bit of money. He had no idea how the situation affected me and had no opportunity to discover that. He, too, was in a position of poverty (lack of control of circumstances) and I could see him clearly, but there was no way to allow a two-way understanding to heal the experience or relationship. I walked away from the experience wounded and he walked away unaware of how deeply he had wounded another. When the other young man later soiled my clothes there was the opportunity to do something about it. It was personal because he was still in the vicinity and I had developed a voice, and though it was my own desperation that made me use it, by speaking I opened an opportunity for understanding. Perhaps if I had yelled at the first kid, others would have understood the level of the crisis and helped, or he would have returned the card because he understood the true nature of the situation. Perhaps not, but he didn’t have the opportunity to change his understanding because nothing was said. Oh, how we need to learn to both speak and listen.
I have learned over the years that this speaking up is the thing people in poverty don’t feel they can do but it is the first thing they must do to ensure that things change. I have experienced it with them and I know the nuances of the view from inside their eyes, the many terrors, the unseen shackles. Things can’t change if we’re not honest about them and when people are honest about what they’re experiencing we have the opportunity to listen carefully and learn. Anger exposes people’s terror and we need to listen with compassion to terror. I can’t stop the tears now. We live in such an angry world. People are afraid all around us. They can’t let their hearts be exceedingly glad, as my favorite scripture suggests, because they are immersed in fear. Because of that we are missing each what the other is saying around us, immersed in reaction.
What is to be done? We must listen carefully and act with conviction to relieve underlying suffering in people who on the surface are merely selfishly angry or accusatory or wildly over-reacting.
I have believed for many years that the experience of reversal has done more to expand my soul than anything else. It has slowed me down, made me less flippant and judgmental, and made me listen more than talk. I recognize daily that I have far to go in this, but I am unendingly grateful for the experience.
If I had one wish today, it would be that you, someone who has been willing to read this all the way through to the end, would look at one angry person in your life right now and ask yourself what they’re afraid of and what you might be able to do to calm and encourage them. How the world, our world, might change if we each did this. Then, perhaps we might go on and look at the silent people around us and wonder too. When Peter walked into the temple with John and saw a lame man, he looked carefully at him and asked him to look carefully at them before a healing occurred. If we’re to accomplish anything, I think we first have to learn to look.