I took care of a friend’s Wheaton terrier, Jake, this weekend. The two of us did a lot of walking together. I took him hiking to a place I had never been before and the two of us got lost in the woods for a few hours. My trek with Jake took my mind on a journey all its own.
As we made our way along the trails, random people would pass and ask to pet Jake. This was always accompanied by compliments of how cute he was or how well behaved and even one passerby who commented on the fact that he is a “dapper young lad!” At one point, we spotted a hiker with a very sickly looking dog. The poor thing had no hair, only three legs, and was so thin I was scared it would never make it out of the woods. As people lavished Jake with compliments and pats on the head, they passed quickly by the poor little dog hobbling along just a little bit in front of us. The hikers and their dog ended up taking a different turn on the trail before I caught up to them and I wasn’t able to offer some love to the little guy.
But all the attention for Jake and so little as a glance in the direction of the other dog got me thinking about how we treat each other when there are differences. It is so easy to be drawn to the smiling bright eyed pretty girl as she walks confidently to her destination. Or how quickly we want to make eye contact with the young strong handsome gentleman who passes quickly on his way to the train. But what about the person with the walking stick, making their way slowly down the street? So often I have seen people actually cross the street and put their heads down as they pass. Or I have noticed three different people in wheelchairs in my neighborhood the past few weeks. As people passed by, every single one of them put their head down and practically ran past the people in the chairs or the typical escape these days, their phones went up in front of their faces and their screens got all of their attention.
All of that thinking brought me to how people with visible differences are treated versus people with invisible differences. I am a person with invisible differences. Approaching me on the street, you would not know I was a diabetic or a double transplant recipient or even a three time survivor of cancer. From a distance you wouldn’t realize I only see out of one eye or that I am a dialysis patient. But I have witnessed firsthand that once some people realize these things, they back away rather quickly. I have missed out on opportunities in life because of my not-so-easy-to-identify differences. People learn of the challenges I face and suddenly there is someone else “better suited for the job” or they just don’t “see a future with me”.
I am so grateful for the countless people who have welcomed me into their worlds throughout my lifetime. The friends who get to know me for who I truly am and not the wounds I carry. The people who are willing to admit they don’t know or understand something and welcome the chance to learn something new or understand a situation better. The individuals who realize I am capable of quite a bit despite the differences I have.
We all have differences, whether easily noticeable or not so easily seen. We all deserve respect and the opportunity to follow our dreams. We are all worthy of simple kindnesses and love. Let’s put down our phones and lift our eyes to meet those of the people right in front of us. Let’s open our hearts and our minds and welcome something new into our everyday lives. Let’s, as Ellen says at the end of every show,
“BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER!”