Some days I close my office door to have a good cry. Why are there so many people in the world? There could have been less of us, but we have grown plenty. To some, other people are an annoyance they would rather avoid. Other people create conflict. They exasperate us and disappoint us. They have their hidden agendas to push. They are inconsiderate, selfish, two-faced hypocrites, ungrateful, unreliable, untrustworthy, just like in House of Cards. And the list goes on and on.
Yes, I have often felt that way toward others, especially those who I am closest to. Sometimes, I hold grudges longer than I should; it is not something that I am proud of. With age, though, I have noticed my grudges have lessened in time and intensity. I no longer have visions of retreating to a mountain to live a perfectly secluded and undisturbed life like the Grinch (except in my vision, I wouldn’t even have a pet, even less a dog as they are too much responsibility). Learning to be with others, seems to me, something we all need to do in order to successfully graduate from this life.
The thing is, the moment you are ready to swear off humanity, some stranger (because usually it comes in the face of a stranger) smiles directly at you, as if for a brief moment that person saw you wholly, or utters the most perfect comment that makes you feel that someone else gets it and that you are not alone, or does a sudden unexpected act of kindness that leaves you thinking, “Huh? Wait…” because it does not fit with all the assumptions and prejudgments you have made about people in general.
Like the time I was running late to catch the train in Penn Station and the machine was not taking my card and the man behind me offered to and paid for my ticket so I would not miss my train. (Thank you.) Or the time I came out of the supermarket pushing a cart full of groceries at seven months pregnant and an elderly woman who had more stuff in her cart than I did offered to leave hers behind so she could help me wheel mine and load the groceries into my car. (Thank you.) And for every day that I have walked around feeling small and invisible and someone has looked straight at me and said, “Good morning, how are you doing today?” (I had never seen that person in my life before; why did she care?)
There is a reason why Baltimore is called Charm City, and I am blessed to have had the opportunity to live here these last five years. Sometimes it takes a stranger to see the beauty in a place that those who have always inhabited it may not be able to see for many, and very valid, reasons. There is not a day that goes by in Baltimore that some stranger doesn’t completely disrupt my Grinch-like tendencies with an expression of friendliness, kindness and just, simply, humanity. And sometimes, sad to say, I can always count on those expressions coming from the man who sits on a wheelchair asking for money at the intersection of Northern Parkway and Charles Street.
One recent morning after my doctor’s appointment, I had the rare moment to sit alone in silence for 15 minutes in a public space and just look around. My God, all these people — all these walking stories of survival and resilience, loss and gain, fortitude, bravery, vulnerability and just plain hard work. All their wisdom. If only I had the time to speak to each one of them. The stuff they all must be going through, or may have gone through that I will never know, and yet here they are, pushing through, not giving up. All these people that complicate life for us and drive us mad, but in the process make us stronger, more compassionate and kinder. They force us to step outside of living in our own little heads, to believe in second chances, to become something greater than any one of us alone can ever be.
I saw a man walk by. I said, “Good morning sir. How are you doing today?” “I am okay. Thanks for asking,” he said. “You have a great day.” Such a miracle the gift of exchanging a word of care with a complete stranger and in that moment feeling like God has smiled down on you. That is the miracle and the gift of people that we walk past by every day. That's why I sometimes close my office door to have a good, grateful cry.
We spend so much of our lives complaining about people, wanting them to change this or that way, when sometimes we are the ones who need to change, to accept others and to see them for the gifts that they truly are. If there is anything I wish for others this holiday season is this: Don’t lose faith in people. Allow yourself the opportunity to be surprised. Merry Christmas.
Paola Pascual-Ferrá, Baltimore
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