It was blazing hot Sunday morning. My middle daughter had bouts of coughing throughout the evening, so I took her with me to run a few errands while my husband and other two kids went to church.
Our last stop was the grocery store for a few odds and ends. As we got back into our car and I put the keys in the ignition, I looked up at the one parked in front of me. Inside was a young woman dabbing her eyes, her face blotchy and pink. Clearly, she was upset about something. She was just a few feet from me, and it crossed my mind to get out of my car, tap on her window, and offer her a hug.
But I quickly talked myself out of it. I mean, if some random person tapped on my window, there’s no way I’d roll it down. I was certain that if I offered this woman a hug — that is, if she would even speak to me — I’d be rejected and perceived as some kind of weirdo. After all, as a mom of a transracial, adoptive family, I do not like when anyone gets into my family’s personal business, interrogating us with nosy questions. So instead of comforting the woman, I buckled my seat belt, put my car in reverse, and drove away.
The entire way home, I told myself I was making the right decision. But my heart was telling me otherwise. I felt pulled, and still do, to have put my arms around that woman in solidarity.
This has been a tough past few weeks — a tough past few months. Story after terrible story have flooded my newsfeed — from the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub to the attack in Istanbul. There is never a shortage of bad news. And this hasn’t just been bad news, lately — it’s been terrifying, heartbreaking news.
Still, it’s easy for the general public — at least, those of us with no personal connection to the incidents themselves or its victims — to read or hear these stories, feel a twinge of empathy, sadness, or even anger, and then go back to our daily lives. We might even fling an opinion or two of our own in a Facebook discussion or a Twitter war. But the next day, it’s back to our same-old, same-old.
I certainly don’t believe that we should wallow in sadness, as that is certainly not healthy or productive, but the loss or harm of any fellow human should resonate with us enough to prompt us to look around. There is hardship everywhere. There are people aching. There is loss, depression, uncertainty amongst those standing right next to us in a checkout line, driving beside us on the highway, or working in the cubicle next to ours. It might be the fellow mom at the park who is overwhelmed, an elderly neighbor who just lost his wife of 50 years, or the store employee who comes across as unhelpful but is quietly struggling with something deeply personal.
But I can’t stop thinking about the crying woman. What had brought her to tears? My creative writer’s imagination took over. Had her father passed away? Did her boyfriend of three years cheat on her? Did her boss just fire her, and she has a bunch of overdue bills? Did someone call her a mean name? Was she remembering a loved one? Maybe it was just one of those days we’ve all had, where nothing is going right and she’d getting kicked while she’s down? What if she was feeling overwhelming guilt for that argument she had last week with her best friend? Did she just get some bad medical news?
Whatever was on her heart that day was something hard; something real. But I’ll never know.
After these past few weeks,I feel like it’s not enough just to contemplate a tough event and move on as if everything is fine. The lives of many people have been irrevocably altered. There will be funerals, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, nightmares. There will be fear, anger, and confusion. There will be questions hurled at the universe, as well as at one another. There will be judgements and memories.
Maybe I can’t put my arms around a Floridian who lost a friend in the nightclub shooting, but I can put my arms around the stranger in the next car. If something I do or say can make the slightest difference, for the better, for the person beside me who is hurting, maybe that’s enough.
So the next time I see someone struggling, I’m going to do something. I don’t want to be another person who turns away, scared of how I’ll be perceived. I won’t talk myself out of offering a kind word, a smile, or even a hug. I refuse to let apathy win. Being kind takes only a few moments, a dash of bravery, and a little bit of humbleness, and it’s always worth it.More On