I was looking back over my earlier posts and noticed I had omitted writing about a particular exchange I had while I was in Washington DC for meetings. This is something I want to remember always, which is my main reason for posting things here.
As I walked from my hotel over to the Senate Office Building to do some advocacy work, I noticed a gentleman working diligently in one of the White House flower beds. Anyone who knows me at all knows I'm a total sucker for flowers and gardens. After having spent a whole lot of time sitting in windowless meetings, the idea of having a job spent outside surrounded by beauty seemed utterly enchanting to me.
I sighed deeply, taking in the full, rich scent of the plants and the earth, and said to the man..."Boy, do I wish I had YOUR job." He looked at me somewhat bewildered and replied: "Not today you don't, lady. I'm here to dig out poison ivy!"
This was just a little reminder that things are not always what they seem.
We can look at someone else's situation and think they have it so much better than we do. But without having actually walked in their shoes, we never really know what challenges they face.
I also have a little shell that sits on my desk as a reminder of that same lesson:
Things are not always as they appear.
When my two son (who are now in their late 30's) were just little boys, we spent one winter living in a lovely beach house in Florida, just three blocks from the ocean. We spent many days going for walks along the water's edge, playing in the waves and picking up shells and bits of sea glass that we would find along the way. One day I had found some particularly nice looking little shells to add to my collection. So, as was my habit, I took them home and boiled them for 10 minutes to kill any bacteria they might be harboring so they would not stink. Then I set them on a paper towel on the counter to cool and dry.
I went about my business of the day doing the various chores and errands I had in my then busy young life. When I returned to my kitchen that evening, one of my favorite shells was missing from the collection I had so carefully set aside.
I called my two little boys in and confronted them, feeling quite convinced that one or the other of them had probably taken it. Both kiddos insisted they had not touched Mommy's special shells. I was angry, more so because I believed one or both was being dishonest with me than because of the loss of the shell. I knew there would be plenty more where that one had come from. But it was the principle of the matter. When I asked them a question I expected them to tell me the truth. There was no one in the house that day but me and them. I knew I had not moved it. So the obvious answer was that one of them MUST have taken it.
I scolded them both, insisting "Look, something had to happen to that shell. There is no way that it just got up and walked away by itself!"
And because the universe has such a wickedly delicious sense of humor....those very words were just out of my mouth when I spied my very special shell. On the floor. Walking away. By itself.
Yeah. Even though I had BOILED the thing for ten full minutes, somehow whatever critter had been living in that shell was STILL in that shell and was trying to escape. Yikes!
Now, the kind thing to do might have been to apologize to that little sea creature for dumping it in hot water. Perhaps I should have returned it to the sea. But I didn't. Instead, I apologized profusely to my two little boys and told them Mommy had made a mistake. I showed them the shell walking across the floor of our kitchen and we had a delightful conversation about how sea creatures lived.
I kept that shell and have it here still to remind me not to be so quick to make assumptions. Even when all the evidence before my eyes seems absolutely obvious that a certain set of facts is true, I need to keep my mind open to the possibility that there is more to the story than I know.