Last week I was walking with a friend across a parking lot on our way to lunch. She was talking about very serious things that had gone on in her past life, and I'll admit, I was so focused on what she was sharing that I did not notice that we were walking more IN the parking lot lane than to the side of it. I was listening to her share about some of the pain she had experienced, some of the joys she had experienced and some of the most challenging times of her life. I was listening to her voice expressing unhealed pain still, as well as resurrection moments and new life and I was praying for her silently as we walked. I was focusing on being present with her. And because of that, I was unaware of my surroundings. I didn't notice, that is, until someone started honking and cursing at us as they passed. Fortunately, I don't think my friend noticed. But it brought to mind for me a couple things.
First, we never know what others are going through at any one moment. The person who was honking and cursing at us did not know that we were talking about deep and important things. She did not know that there was pain and prayers being shared. Neither did I know what she was going through in her life at that moment that made her be in such a hurry and made her so easily angry with the world around her. We do not know what others' lives are like, and because of that, it is probably always a good idea to assume the BEST of people and to give them the benefit of the doubt in any situation. She might normally be a very nice person who was just having a really bad day. Likewise, I am usually more considerate and aware of where I am and where I walk. But there was of course no way for her to know that. Assuming the best about others, no matter how they are behaving in the moment, is therefore helpful. We just don't know what someone else is experiencing.
Second, as so many people have said in so many different ways, we have a choice about what we contribute to the world with every single interaction. With every challenge that we face we have a choice to be kind or to be nasty, to be compassionate or to be judgmental, to be grace-filled or to be oppressing, to be loving or to be hateful. We have to pay attention. But as Tolstoy pointed out, the most important thing to pay attention to is the one you are with in any one moment and that one's needs at that moment. Because it is in those one on one moments that we affect the world. It is through small kindnesses that we change the world for the better. It is in the small steps of each day that we create a life long journey that either makes the world a little better, or makes the world a little less compassionate. There is so much hate and anger right now. It surrounds us in debates on TV and in road-rage and in nasty passing comments. Every action we do that is grace-filled counters that a little. Every kind word, every apology and every affirmation, every time we really look at someone and see them, every time we take a moment to hear another person, every smile that we give to a stranger, every time we give someone the benefit of the doubt, and every time we take a risk and assume the best about the other and offer compassion rather than judgment, even when they are misbehaving, we have the opportunity to make the world a better place.
What is the legacy you wish to leave to this world? Is it kindness and compassion? Or is it pain and scars? Is it grace and beauty? Or is it judgment and condemnation? Each day gives us a new opportunity to choose. Each minute gives us a new chance to be the good the world needs so desperately. And each moment gives us the gift of the choice to love rather than to hate, whoever it is that we encounter.