I saw her from across the room standing with a bandana tied around her head, neatly woven braids, and a colorful, layered outfit. I assume she was somewhere around 40 years old. But I couldn’t continue to look because she was skin and bones. For the week, I avoided her. I avoided eye contact. I avoided sitting close to her at meals. I avoided any interaction with her.
The other day, I made my way from where I write in my journal to the corner in my bedroom where my meditation cushion lives. I sat quietly.
Within moments, the image of my father appeared. The image of him struggling to walk and lift his leg into his car. The image of fast food bags in his passenger seat. The image of him having to sit after walking a few steps or knowing it was easier for him to sleep in a chair than a bed.
I felt my heart clench. The pain of those images and watching someone you love struggle and suffer is heartbreaking.
I knew deep down that although my Dad never said it, being obese impacted his life. It was his snoring that was the start of him and my Mom sleeping in separate beds. It was his weight that led to other health conditions. He couldn’t do the things he loved like swim or soak in the hot tub. Traveling to see his grandchildren was difficult. He couldn’t get down on the floor and play with them. He could only watch.
As I sat quietly remembering my father, tears trickled down my cheeks. The image of the woman soon appeared in my mind. Although appearances presented themselves in different ways, their pain showed up in their appearance.
Just as it was sometimes too hard to bear the pain of my father’s suffering for 20 years, it was also, humbly, too painful to bear the pain of this woman’s story who I did not know.
In the last several years of my Dad’s life, I softened to his pain. For many years I was hardened, judgmental and angry about his suffering. Those feelings protected me from my sadness.
As I thought about the woman with the bandana, who was later confirmed to be anorexic; I reflected that my avoidance to her was to not feel the sensitivity of her suffering.
How often do we turn away from people’s pain and suffering because of what it touches in us? The hardness, tightness or judgment points us to something deeper in us that is being touched. Something that is often much softer, more tender and genuinely human.