I’ve seen this quotation in many places. It reminds me of a lesson I’ve learned and re-learned over 27 years of teaching teenagers (mostly) and adults. There was the young man whose mother was at home dying of cancer. She died right before Christmas that year, and after he returned to class in the new year, Dad asked that teachers say nothing to him at all about it because it was too painful. There was the man in his 60’s working on an MA in Theology in the grad program I was teaching in. He was a retired physician. One week he was in class, and the next week he was dead. There was the young person. On my roster she was a young woman. In confidence he shared with me that he was a trans-male. His parents were so unwilling to consider his reality that they often locked him out of the house at night, and he had to sleep on the patio regardless of the weather.
We really do not know what things the people in our lives–however close we feel to them–are carrying around. We don’t know the burdens. We don’t know the anguish and pain. We can only make it clear to the people in our lives that we are listening, that we are open. I’ve answered the door in my life to people who want to convince me to sign some petition to “stop the gays” in our community. I’ve tried in those moments to ask them gently: how many gay people do you know? The most common answer: none. The reality? You know gay people, but they cannot trust their reality to you because of your hostility.
Be kind. It costs us very little to be kind. To be open. To make a warm and soft place for other human beings to land when they fall. It costs us very little. Some day, we, ourselves, will need that warm, soft place. Until then, the awe and wonder of opening ourselves to others so that they can share themselves is really almost incomparable. I think that when I open myself to another’s revelation, the whole universe opens to me.