After hearing about Robin Williams’ death and reading several blog posts about depression, I decided to reach into my blog archive and share this story again. It’s not directly dealing with depression, but rather with being the person who accidentally overlooks someone else’s pain.
(This isn’t a guilt trip. None of us controls another person; we can influence them and point them toward life. Sometimes, though, despite all the help and love and care we give that person, they will still choose to end their lives. It’s heartbreaking. My sincerest sympathies for those who have survived a loved one’s suicide.)
But we can still make a difference. We can still reach out and try to help, even if it breaks our hearts.
The big issue is, will we? Will we be aware enough to help? Or are we so busy that we overlook the obvious?
This story is about one time I remained oblivious to another person’s pain. I hope it helps you to think about your life and when you need to open your eyes and see the needy person in front of you.
(Repost from 2010)
It was a typical Saturday morning at Super Wal-Mart. I pushed my shopping cart through the aisles, my emotions near the breaking point as my then-six-week-old baby screamed and my preschooler whined. We’d completely run out of formula and the baby was hungry (hence the incessant crying) and my older daughter was tired (hence the whining) and I was sleep deprived, emotional and hating every moment spent grocery shopping among the throngs of equally grumpy Saturday shoppers.
We turned on to the soft drink aisle. A worker was loading soft drinks onto the shelves. A family pushed their shopping cart by us. The mother caught a glimpse of my baby and the entire family—father, mother and children—had to stop and gush over her. She immediately calmed down, basking in the attention that diverted her from her rumbling tummy.
“How old is she?”
“Oh how precious. Look at those little toes. . . .”
The family moved on. The worker looked at my daughter as we passed him.
“My wife and I had a two-week-old,” he said quietly. “She died a month ago.”
His last words were so low that I barely caught them. My stressed-out, tired mind didn’t comprehend at first; and while I saw the darkness on his face, it didn’t register with me. What did I do?
I walked on.
It didn’t sink into me what he had said until we were almost on the next aisle. He and his wife had a child that, had she lived, would’ve been the same age as my baby. Had he been looking at my daughter’s plump cheeks, tiny toes, kissable lips, and remembering how his child’s face had looked when she died? Had he wondered what she would have looked like now? Was he near the breaking point, his grief overwhelming him?
I could’ve turned back at that point, expressed my sympathy, patted him on the back, said how sorry I was that they had lost their child. But in my fatigue and agitation, my eyes were closed to his pain.
”Make yourself a blessing to someone. Your kind smile or pat on the back just might pull someone back from the edge.” – Carmelia Elliott
A Facebook friend posted this yesterday, and I think it is so true. Our response to others can either yank them back from the edge of despair or fill them with longing to jump off the ledge. A smile brightens; a scowl darkens. A hug comforts; walking past feels like a slap in the face.
The problem I see is that we: A) don’t remember this truth, and B) don’t see the condition of someone else’s heart.
On my own, I’m a self-centered, self-serving creature. My fatigue and depression and to-do lists are urgent; my desire to make it through Super Wal-mart without a meltdown in the cereal aisle is a tyrant that demands full attention. So most of the time, I’m blind to what’s truly important. I don’t see others as God sees them—I’m too busy looking in the mirror to look through the windows into someone else’s soul.
Brandon Heath has a great song that expresses his desire to see others from God’s perspective:
Give me your eyes, Lord, just one second
Give me your eyes that I can see
Everything that I keep missing
Give me your love for humanity
Opening our eyes takes an intentional effort. Honestly, it’s hard to want to be intentional. It takes emotional energy, time and a willingness to put aside my selfishness; sometimes I’m on the edge myself, I’m the one needing hope, and I’m not quite capable of even smiling. I think that’s okay. There’s a time to be comforted:
- A couple who has lost a child.
- A man receiving a pink slip.
- A woman just released from the psychiatric ward.
- Even the person who’s having a bummer of a day where she hit the trashcan with her SUV, had the toilet back up, found out she’s got a mouthful of cavities, and realized she forgot to pay the electric bill.
Sometimes life overwhelms us. There’s nothing wrong with focusing energy on grieving—it’s healthy.
But there’s a time to be the comforter, too. I don’t have to take on the grief of the world; it would overwhelm me to be the shoulder that everyone cries on. Other times, there isn’t the emotional intimacy or even a relationship between us; others closer to the hurting person need to carry more of the burden.
But there’s really no excuse for a reasonably stable person not to extend some sympathy when I see a person in pain. It doesn’t take hours to hug someone, whisper a prayer, smile at a person who looks stressed at how badly his day is going. A mere smile lets others know they aren’t alone in the world and that someone finds them worthwhile to smile at.
I don’t always see others’ pain as blatantly as I did that day in Wal-Mart. But if I open my eyes, let God give me his eyes, I will see opportunities to give hope to another person.
So let’s open our eyes. We might just pull someone back from the edge.