There's about three feet of snow on the ground and I see a woman who looks like she needs help. But I don't help her. Because awhile back I'd decided that this woman was mean and my assumptions wouldn't let me move.
I'm walking the few feet from my car to my house and she is walking down the pathway in front of me with a bag in her hand that looks too heavy for her. She lives about six doors down from us so she has quite a way to go before reaching her house. She's a small, frail lady no more than 4'10" or 4'11" and she walks kind of hunched over. She looks dangerously unsteady walking through the thick snow and dragging along this bag. She doesn't have a hat or gloves. It's just uncomfortable to watch. So guess what? I don't. I keep walking straight to my door and into my house like I don't see her.
You can judge me now.
Because this is what we do, we judge each other and we let our actions be driven by the assumptions we make. We decide all kinds of things about people and sometimes we think it's harmless but I realized from this situation that it hurts and it shows up in one way or another.
I felt bad about myself for not helping her. I wanted to press rewind and go back and do the right thing. I struggled with it because I didn't understand myself -- why would I do that? I hate seeing people sad or struggling and I have this bleeding heart that so often gets me in trouble so where did all that go?
In my head I call her the mean lady. She doesn't respond to good mornings and hellos. She walks past all the time and avoids eye contact. One time she called the police on the neighborhood kids, including mine, for running across her front lawn as they were playing tag. When a couple of us went over to make peace and talk to her about it, she wouldn't talk to us. So admittedly, I don't like her. I feel like she's made no effort to be kind or neighborly.
I never see the use in being nasty toward anyone so I don't exert any energy toward her at all. It's like she's not there. Until this situation, where I would normally go out of my way to be helpful and to avoid seeing someone in distress, I didn't realize that I was harboring resentment toward her. This showed me a side of myself that's not easy to see.
I don't know this woman. I don't know her life, her situation, what she's been through or what keeps her up at night. I know that I never see her with any visitors, I've never seen her smile and she has a gloominess about her. I only see her with the slow walking and the head down. That's all I know of her. Yet I've made assumptions about her worthiness based on my idea of how a person should interact with others and what a good neighbor is and I decided in that moment in the snow that she didn't deserve my kindness. I let her walk right past me, obviously struggling and I pretended not to see. It wouldn't have hurt me to offer help. Even if she would have ignored me or told me to go to hell, I could have tried. I could have offered her some light whether she chose to receive it or not.
Sometimes I'm just not brave enough to love as big as I want to. To express myself as honestly and sincerely as I want to. But I'm working on it all the time. Kindness is not always reciprocated but I know I have it in me to be generous and compassionate anyway. It's in those uncomfortable moments, where my pride is challenged and my emotions are in conflict, where I see myself get scared and shut down. My ego tells me to protect myself or that I need something in return and my walls come up. But holding the love back is like swallowing too much air. I can't breathe right. I feel bloated. I know I don't want to be so full of my own righteousness that I can't make room for a simple act of kindness.
I want to make decisions out of love not fear and sometimes that just doesn't happen. My judgments and assumptions get in the way. I get caught up in keeping score. I'm thinking about what other people would do instead of channeling what feels right and meaningful for me. It's just like when I hold back my creativity because I've been rejected before or when I hold back my best efforts because I've failed before. When I let my motivation come from my ego and not my heart, there is always a price.
Us constantly judging one another and keeping score blocks love and stifles creativity. When we're blind to this, we find ourselves doing little things like pretending not to see someone in need. Gossiping about someone whose life we don't understand. Wasting energy trying to be right, trying to have the last word. Blinding ourselves with assumptions and bumping into nonsense that wastes our time. In the long run, it keeps us in a box, afraid to love bigger than the walls we've built around ourselves.
I'm not trying to be perfect, but I am trying to love bigger and be more brave. I'm trying to pay attention to what life has to teach me. The guilt I felt from not helping my neighbor the other day reminded me -- less judgment, more love.
What has life been teaching you lately? No judgment. :-)