By Kathryn Dickenson, OTN Intern
“If there was one thing you could change about the world, one problem or one evil to fix, what would it be?”
It was early Saturday morning at a resource shelter and my first time as an overnight inn-keeper. There were five of us at the table eating breakfast including myself and the other inn-keeper. I paused for a minute; my eyes trailed off to some distant point in the high ceiling of the church gym as I struggled to come up with an answer that avoided even a whiff of a platitude or contrived cliché. Of course, nothing came to mind so I answered with a safe, “I don’t know,” and asked him how he would answer that question.
Without skipping a beat and ignoring my very obvious deflection tactic, he asked me another question: “If you could walk in another person’s shoes for a day, anyone from past or present, real or fictional, who would you choose?” This time, I was determined to answer his question. The other people around the table began to chime in and started to compare and contrast their favorite Biblical and historical figures. Soon, everyone at the table had landed on their own answer and were left to watch me waffle non-commitally between all the people I couldn’t choose because they would be too obvious an answer.
Seeing that I was not going to come up with a response any time soon, my original inquisitor leaned in from across the table, looked at me directly in the eyes and said, “Bright Eyes, these are the important things in life to think about.” He began to reflect on his life—there was so much pain there, so much death, illness, and suffering, but there was not a trace of despair or hopelessness in his voice. He seemed proud and joyful to pass on even a sliver of his life experience to those around him. He described how these were the questions his mother used to ask him and all of the young siblings and cousins in the family “to make sure their head and heart were in the right place.”
In that moment, I could imagine that I was part of that family. I realized that it probably didn’t really matter how thoughtful or “deep” my answers to those questions were, but only that I acknowledge that none of us are alone. We do not have to suffer alone, and where we are in our hearts and minds, the consequences of our actions, do not affect only ourselves. We did not answer any of life’s deepest questions or find a solution to any of the world’s most pressing problems that morning, but we were able to catch a glimpse of each other—suffering, joy, and all—and that made us feel a little less alone.