I met this soldier once. He smiled and laughed a lot, and with such ease. He told me that he had to go back to Afghanistan soon, that he just wanted to be done with the Army, and that it’s hard to connect with people now. He was looking around the bar as he said this, the smile gone. There was no hardness in his eyes though, no bitterness. His voice wasn’t angry, just sounded tired. He was 22. I hope to God he made it home again safely since his last tour. I’ll never see him again.
There was this old man that helped my friend fix a flat tire on his motorcycle when he was traveling around the U.S. one summer. The man was weathered, stooped, lived in the middle of nowhere with his wife. My friend needed help, and the man not only fixed his tire, but also gave him a place to stay for the night.
I used to work with some of the most amazing women I’ve ever known. We were all out for drinks and appetizers one night at a big, long table, and amid the laughter and shouts and work insiders one of the older woman turned to us young girls and told the story of when she had her first baby. “The most magical moment in my life,” she said with tears in her eyes, “was when I found out I had a baby girl.” She told all of us to do what feels right to us, whether in relationships, career, or just life, and to never dismiss the joy of loving and being loved.
I taught a tennis camp one summer, and there was a little boy in my youngest class that drove me crazy. He’d throw balls at me the whole time, which only made the other kids laugh and do it too. I’d scold him, and he’d stand quiet and attentive like an angel until I turned my back, and then BAM another ball would hit me square in the back and he’d run away laughing his head off. On the last day of class, that little demon actually gave me a hug and sweetly and sincerely said he’d miss me. Then he grinned devilishly and threw one last ball at me.
None of these seem related. And they probably don’t mean anything to you. They are little snippets of stories, moments, fleeting glimpses of people’s lives, people you most likely will never meet and I will not see again. But do they remind you of people you do know? Do they remind you of yourself? Is the old man, who selflessly helped my friend and gave him a place to stay, like your grandfather? That little kid at tennis who always made trouble, but was sweet deep down, does that sound like your younger brother, or like you growing up? The older woman with the wise and beautiful advice – have you met someone like her? Whose words you remember as clearly as the moment they were uttered? The soldier… do you know someone like him? Changed and spent. Too young to have seen so much.
My point is that we all go through our lives experiencing our own ups and downs, moments of selfishness that we turned into selflessness as we grew older, mistakes that turned into wise advice, beautiful moments and moments of defeat, acts of rebellion and times we did as we were told, and we forget that everyone else is just like us. We forget that everyone else is going through all of this too. That old, weathered man – maybe he was once the rebellious child. Or the young soldier. Maybe he married and loved a woman like the one with the tender advice and they had a baby girl together. If we can recognize this more often, maybe we’ll start to realize that our lives are not as individualistic as we think they are. It sounds so cliché, but we’re all in this together.
Too often, we compare our own lives to others’. We compete against each other. We don’t recognize our own likeness in strangers. We don’t recognize a friend in an unfamiliar face. What if we changed that, though? What if we realized how alike we all are, in all our hopes and struggles, love lost and love found, in our dark times and beautiful times, failures and victories, and in our friendships and loneliness? I think we’d realize we all know each other. We can see ourselves in each other. If that’s true, can’t we share and celebrate each other’s happiness and successes a little more? Can’t we be more understanding and empathetic, because we have gone through pain too?
Once you begin to see yourself or someone you care about in strangers, you begin to live differently. You treat people better; you’re kinder and more forgiving to others, and to yourself. Think about it; try it. We’re not divided, individual souls roaming around making our way through this world alone. We’re part of each other: we’re friends and family and lovers and inspiration and summer flings and lessons learned and a smile on the subway. We’re someone else’s something even if we don’t know it. We’re all of these things to each other, and it’s crazy and beautiful. See yourself in someone else, and take comfort in knowing that they might understand what you’re going through more than you think.