Recently I read of the tragic suicide of someone I once knew and the story behind her pain. My heart felt wracked with grief.
Eight years ago I met her during a low point in both of our lives. It was our one thing in common. She was teaching me the basics of dog obedience with an overweight Labrador Retriever named Bubba. Bubba was less than eager to learn and preferred laying under shade trees or rolling around in a baby pool over following our commands. I admired her unwavering patience with him. I knew little about her, other than things you learn from observation. Witty. Smart. Gentle. Kind. Unpretentious in every sense of the word. She had a unique connection with canines, like she understood their vulnerability and longing to be loved.
What observation didn’t reveal to me was the pain she carried inside. Deep lacerations on the soul caused by a tormented past. Torment at the hands of the one person who should have made her world a safe place to navigate through. My mental photographs of her captured a wide contagious smile. I had no idea that beautiful smile camouflaged so much darkness.
I paused and wept as I read the details of her death, her pain deserving to be recognized and felt.
It was a reminder of something important that I learned long ago, that we never really know what is going on in the hidden recesses of another person’s heart.
I remember well the first time that I learned this. My heart still winces at the memory. I was 13 years old and 600 miles from home, sitting in a chain restaurant surrounded by my family. A moment often passes before we realize the gravity of it.
I remember looking over at my cousin who was seated several seats down from me and thinking no one in here knows. No one knew that she was in survival mode. Internally shattered and unsure of how she would ever go on. Her infant son had died unexpectedly just days before. It seemed to me that for a pain so great, the whole universe should know.
I remember the neon signs in that place. The buzz of activity around us and the way grief hung thick in the air while we all strived for some sense of normalcy. Even back then, the realization that no one else in that place knew of her pain made me want to be kinder to people.
We all experience suffering to varying degrees. No one is exempt. And we all are required to pick up the pieces and move forward in this complicated thing called life. I try to live conscious of the fact that you never really know what is going on in another person’s life. It doesn’t always change the way I interact with others, but it should. Because the next person I encounter could be going through hell on earth.
Small acts of mercy and kindness matter. Not assuming that someone’s behavior towards me is personal matters. My every response towards others can alleviate or add to their suffering.
“Leave people better than you found them.” ~Marvin J. Ashton
In memory of M.B. and Samuel