I still remember the first time I laid eyes on her. She was older by more than a decade, and at least two feet shorter. We were introduced by a mutual friend and I was surprised at her lack of response to my friendly smile, but more so by her plainly obvious reluctance to shake my hand. She was awfully quiet during our meeting and kept shooting furtive looks at me.
At first, I was puzzled, then very much annoyed. It was our first meeting, for Pete’s sake. What did she hold against me?
This went on every Sunday I came to church, week after week, month after month. Then one day, the same friend who had introduced us approached me after church meetings and, with this woman by her side, asked me if I could lend my professional medical services to this woman who was having gynecological problems.
I honestly wanted to refuse. Standing in front of me, this woman still refused to look at me and almost stood as if hiding behind our friend like a frightened little girl. Very much against myself I agreed to meet with her the following day for a consult.
Later, uneasy by my decision, I called our friend and asked her to tell me something about this woman and if she knew the reason why she disliked me so.
“I noticed that,” my friend agreed, “ but more than disliking you, I think she is terrified of you.”
“I’ve thought the same thing myself!” I almost shouted on the telephone, relieved by her validation. I was not crazy after all.
My friend did not know much about her in spite of having known her for quite sometime.
New to that particular church ward, I had never met them until after my baptism few months before. But my friend said, this woman had been a church member for years yet not very active. She traveled often back to her native Mexico with her handsome much older husband. He looked charming enough, but my friend had heard from others that he was emotionally abusive to his wife, and at least once the abuse had become physical.
My heart began to soften. I felt pity for the woman, and wondered what her life had been like. I decided to visit her at her home and keep our meeting informal. Maybe she would open up to me then.
I asked another mutual friend to accompany me to create a neutral ground. When we arrived at her humble small house the following afternoon, she again cowered at my sight. With a small almost inaudible voice she invited us in and sat as far from me as it was possible in the tiny space.
I let our common friend start with the pleasantries while I watched this woman carefully in silence. I looked around her house for some clues into who she was. There by a corner on a small table was a portrait of her wedding day. The age difference between her husband and her was more noticeable then. He had remained almost the same, but she had not aged as gracefully.
“ Are you German?” she blurted out all of a sudden. Surprised, I barely shook my head.
Seconds later I posted a question myself, “ Why do you ask?”
“You look so much like her,” she said, almost to herself. She was probably close to fifty, but her voice was much younger, almost like a little girl’s, when with a visible shudder, she added. “ The first time I saw you I thought I was seeing a ghost.”
“ Who?” I asked intrigued in spite of myself.
“ My stepmother,” she replied. Maybe it was my being in her own home, or the fact that she was told I was not German, or perhaps my willingness to come meet with her, to this day, I do not know why or how she began to trust me. But, once she started talking to me there was no stopping her.
For a little over two hours, she shared with us many things about her miserable childhood with the woman her father had married when she was seven years old. The abuse, the pain, the sadness, the fear, she bared it all. And, as she spoke, I found myself not only making sense of her behavior towards me all those months since meeting her, but also being drawn towards her with compassion.
Why am I sharing this story with you today? Because I have been thinking that with knowledge comes understanding, and with understanding comes empathy, and with empathy comes acceptance.
That day, I gained knowledge of a wounded human being who had at the least annoyed me for months before. I understood the reasons behind her behavior towards me and it made total sense. I resembled someone who had greatly hurt her for years, and she carried if not physical wounds, and of this I am not sure for I never asked her, at least deep emotional scars. With my understanding, I felt compassion for the little girl who had suffered at the hands of a cruel woman, and after my compassion she became a friend.
Today, I see so many judging, prejudging, misjudging others. Drawing most times erroneous conclusions about someone else that instead of drawing us together pushes us apart.
There is danger in this. In these perilous times we, more than ever, need to stand together. There is need for understanding, for empathy, for sincere affection.
There is more we share in common than what makes us different, whether this may be our ethnicity, our language, our religion, our gender, our sexual orientation, our social status. We all want to be happy, with our families, with our life, with our choices, with our circumstances. Why not help each other instead of tearing each other apart?
I see so many people around me wasting precious time withholding affection from others, only to realize that by doing so their sense of inadequacy only deepens. We are divinely engineered to care for one another.
It takes so little. Just the other day, I came to work early in the morning and saw few minutes later one of the young MA’s arriving herself. I smiled brightly because I genuinely like this young girl, and without thinking I took her in my arms and gave her a hug. She looked surprised, but she returned the hug.
I went about my business as usual and later as I had finished with patients and was leaving, I ran into the same girl who was filling up the autoclave with freshly washed instruments.
As I passed by her, I wished her good night and she said, “Thank you for the hug this morning.” I turned to look at her with a smile, and before I had a chance to say, “ It was nothing.” I heard her say, “I really needed it today.”
There. It had been nothing for me. A simple, instinctive, gesture of welcoming from someone who is a hugger, which for someone else meant the reassuring touch of another human conveying caring, affection and acceptance.
I knew nothing about her challenges that day, but expressing affection is something I have tried to develop for years. That day, it made a difference in someone else’s life.
With knowledge comes understanding, with understanding comes empathy, with empathy comes acceptance, and as we accept each other we become stronger, we become more whole, we become healthier, and happier.
As Albert Einstein said once “ Our task should be to free ourselves...by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” And good Qi would flow freely.
This is just my opinion..
As a single woman, a Mormon and a western/ Chinese doctor.