April 5, 2014

Learning about yourself from another's story

Years ago, I was told that a student had called me a snob because I had a new car.

Boy, was I irritated. Every time I passed “Jane Doe,” mean mental music played as I growled under my breath. 

Some time later, I pointed her out to another staff person; I scoffed, “That Jane Doe called me a snob because of my new car. I don’t even have a new car!” The staff person glanced over and said, “That’s ok. That’s not even Jane Doe.” 

I often confused my job as caseworker with that of PR agent. If one of my families was being judged, I would share a sweet story about them. I loved this part of my work — bearing witness to tender, funny moments and preparing the way for understanding.

I have been blessed to work as a helper to people. Mostly, I am mindful that, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Where I lack compassion, however, is with my peers; people I believe to be “like me” — as if suffering has favorites.

There is a couple that, until recently, I had neatly categorized. The husband is younger than me and I had him tucked under the heading, “Goofy-younger-brother type” who married “nice, pretty woman.” Together, they “had it all,” which was unacceptable.

My view first shifted when I heard the whisper, “infertile.” As we popped out baby after baby, this couple was enduring the tortuous gymnastics of fertility testing and treatment. My narcissistic self was sorry and removed them from the “Golden Couple” shelf. 

Just as time and hope appeared to run out, I glimpsed the wife at a distance, heavy with child. I was absentmindedly happy for them. Seasons passed and I would see this couple with their baby, and then toddler, and now, school-aged child. Each time I saw them all together, each time they spoke of her, I was struck by their manner. They seemed caught off guard, stunned, as if the wonder of finally having a child never faded — never.

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