as published in the Blytheville Courier News on Thursday, September 24, 2015
This week has had a share of heartbreaking events for me, but one has been particularly transformative. I don’t know exactly why this event has impacted me so profoundly, but it truly has. The first lesson learned is to not judge people too harshly, you never know what has brought them to their low state in life. The other lesson is “there, but by the grace of God, go I”.
Often, in our busy lives of self-centered importance, we notice how those around us fail to live up to our code of behavior, morals and mores. We see the actions of others and simply dismiss the person as inferior and one to be looked down upon. But we need to take more time to see what has brought that person, sometimes to the very precipice of destruction.
I have managed a number of restaurant and retail establishments in Blytheville over the last two decades. Therefore, I know a lot of people. Sometimes I only know their face and have long forgotten their names, but I still “know” them. Additionally, I have had hundreds, if not thousands, of employees that have worked for me at one point in time. The types of the stores that I have worked for, almost without exception, hired young people. So, I have had the good fortune of watching many young people grow up from their first job (with me) to become very successful men and women, fathers and mothers and contributing members of society. Some of these “kids” still contact me from time to time to let me know how they are doing or to seek advice, because they know that I’ll shoot straight with them.
On the flip side, I have also had the horrible misfortune of watching a number of really talented, kind, good people (whether customers or former employees) live lives of toil, pain and desperation. One of those persons crossed my path this week.
This girl, ordinary, family-oriented and gainfully employed, caught my attention years ago as a customer. She was quiet, modest and insecure, but the thing I most noticed were her sad eyes. Her eyes were that of an old, abused, hopeless creature – though she was probably in her mid twenties at the time. I have occasionally thought of her, hoping that somehow, somewhere, someone had brought joy to her sad eyes. No such luck.
When I saw her the other day she looked emaciated. Her eyes still looked extremely sad, but not so alive. She told me that she hated her life, had no job though she had put in a number of applications, had recently lost her father, was in danger of losing her two children and had no car. She began to cry big crocodile tears and my heart began to tear. It was then that the lessons began to play out in my life. It was then that it became abundantly clear that the only income she was making came through an exchange of physical favors. OUCH!
Now, my heart was divided. Out of fear of getting into some type of legal trouble, many of the ones that could help her have probably labelled her toxic and have made her a social outcast. She is living the life, socially, as an “untouchable”, but what she needs most is real love and help. She may be on drugs, I don’t know, because there has been a lot of weight loss and the shine of her face and hair is gone. Her words, were mixed with both the cry for help and the manipulation of a traveling fairway carny.
I promised her that she can change her life, that I didn’t judge her because life gets very hard and sometimes we do very hard things to survive and take care of our kids. Then I told her that she was better than that, that I believed in her and to never give up. God has a plan for her and that He would help her. Next, I sped away as fast as I could hoping that I wouldn’t get in trouble for even talking to her. I’m ashamed of that.
I have been praying for a change in her and in her situation. But the truth is, I have been changing along the way. I can’t complain about my life, though I often do. I am blessed beyond my ability to even recognize and be thankful, again to my shame. Also, I know that she is one small step from falling into complete and utter destruction, and it is only by the grace of God that I am not there myself. You too my friend, you too.
We just never know what events in life have conspired to make someone be what they are or do what they do. It is easy to see someone that appears unfriendly and judge them for being thus, but we don’t know how many times or in what ways people have terrorized their hearts. We can easily judge an uneducated person for being too lazy to work at learning, especially when it is universally accessible. But we don’t really know what obligations stole time from them when they should have been able to study. We can judge a person that becomes addicted to pain medications as being weak and undisciplined, but we haven’t been there with them every time that they may have rocked and rocked in legitimate pain. We can’t even judge my friend for what she is doing, at least not too harshly, because we just don’t know what we’d do to keep our kids or to keep them fed.