Saturday, August 13, 2011
An Open Heart For The Stranger
This summer we had a lovely young woman as an intern in the Foundation. Swati is from Dehradun and her parents are both physicians who often refer children to us. She is hoping to become a doctor herself and I was impressed by her quiet, gentle personality and the careful way she went about her work.
Swati told me on the day she was leaving – just in a by-the-way sort of style – that she had seen me once several years before in a clock shop in town and that she had been amazed to hear me speaking in Hindi.
I, on the other hand, was amazed – and a little worried – to think that she had taken note of my presence then and that she had remembered it all these years later.
It made me think about our public personas, and how seldom we consider them – especially in the heat of the moment. What had Swati heard me say in Hindi? If the clock hadn’t been ready on time, as promised, had I gotten get cross? Had I been rude?
Or if it had been ready, had I been sufficiently grateful? Had I remembered to thank the man behind the counter? Had I acknowledged his part in the whole thing? Had I even realized he existed?
People are always watching us and drawing conclusions about who we are – sometimes based on a single encounter. Another woman who later became a good friend told me how she used to see me on my bicycle (Anand perched on the back, Cathleen in a baby basket on the front), buying sabzi and how strange she thought I must be: didn’t I have a car? Didn’t I have an ayah who could look after the children?
I think it’s helpful to remember this as often as possible: that people are watching us, taking note of what we say and how we say it, even if we are unaware of them doing it. So though it always pulls me up short to hear from people that they remembered seeing me years before we actually met, it’s a useful reminder of the effect even our smallest actions can have in the universe.
I wish I could remember it always. I wish I could keep an open heart and a willing hand for every person I encounter, whether I know them or not, whether I am even aware of their presence. It may not be possible in this imperfect life, given this imperfect soul. But it’s worth trying for.