Last week, the “Sketch Guy” at the New York Times offered a short piece titled, “Ask Yourself This: What Burdens Is That Other Person Carrying?” In it, he described getting some horrible news about the sudden death of the mother of one of his best friends. He was in an airport when he got the call with the details. He was devastated. The woman who had died was a loving and important influence during his most formative years, and upon hearing of her death he started to cry. He then ended his call and boarded his flight.
He wrote of carrying his grief (marked by a tearstained face and red, swollen eyes) with him as he went through the gate, past the flight attendants, and into his seat. Suddenly, he realized the obvious: no one he was encountering had any idea how sad he was or why. And immediately after that, he also realized that he didn’t know what the strangers around him were coping with either. “I thought about the airline employee who had just checked my boarding pass, the man sitting next to me, the woman across the aisle. Did they have a sick child, or a friend in the hospital? Were they on that plane in a race against time? What about the person who had been yelling at the gate agent or, for that matter, those who were yelling on Twitter while I checked it standing in line?”
At any given time, most of us have at least some access to our own feelings and their source. Emotions can always blindside us, but it is human nature to focus on our own experiences and our reactions to them. And I thought this small article was a good reminder that it’s safe to assume that those around us are also struggling (or at least working something through). It’s easy to understand this when individuals are in obvious need; less so when they present as being strong or “having it all together.” Even if a person who appears not to struggle really is in a good place, making a habit of erring on the side of compassion ensures that our hearts remain open to the experiences of others.
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus consistently drew people’s attention to the suffering around them. He made visible struggles that were hidden in plain sight. He commended those who would be His disciples to look beyond their own experiences of reality to honor the reality of strangers. Even as He called people into accountability, He reminded His followers that loving others-and expressing that love through non-judgmental service and sacrifice-is the best way to know God.
The last lines in the Times piece offered these questions: What burdens are all the people on this plane carrying? And how would I treat them differently if I knew? Jesus commissions us with these words: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. We build on the foundation of that love; the connection and care that already exists in our lives and in our communities. We depend upon God’s sustaining Grace as we commit to this compassionate vision of what’s possible among us.