“I found a book that my mama kept
Filled with secrets she hid
And in a dusty old attic, one mornin’ I read
About a woman I never met
Who had dreams just like mine
With every page that I turned, the words came alive”
(Written by Liz Hengber, Deanna Bryant)
My mother is not a writer, but she is a brilliant individual. She earned her PhD in mathematics when my sisters and I were young, somehow managing to balance her studies and her family. She went on to become a full time professor at a university and taught in the math and computer science department until her retirement, just a few years ago. While we think of her as “Mom” or “Grandma,” she is so much more. She is wife, mother, daughter, sister, teacher, friend, neighbor. She is a person with dreams and disappointments, successes and failures, happiness, and at times, sadness. We are all so much more than the associations that define us.
This idea is something I often consider. I have a habit of people-watching and always wonder about the story that accompanies each individual. Do they live alone or have a family? Do they have a dog or a cat or do they not like pets? What type of music do they like? Are they happy? Stressed? Successful? What do they consider successful? What are they like when they are alone and no-one is watching? Who are they really? I am a constant and consistent questioner. I wonder about everything. I can drive people crazy, especially my husband. He tells me, “Everything is WHY to you.” In this situation, it is true. Why are people the way they are?
Human nature can, at times, make us very self-centered. This is not necessarily in a negative way, but rather in the way that it is sometimes hard to look beyond our own wants and needs. We interact with people all the time, but we pigeon-hole them into convenient places in our minds. That’s Sue from Accounting. Or That’s the guy from the grocery store. The truth is “Sue” is much more than an accountant. “The guy” might be someone who goes home every night to care for his sick child. They exist beyond the roles in which we place them.
The truth is, unless we have an intimate connection with a person, we have no idea who he really is. More importantly, we don’t often consider his humanity beyond how it can serve our needs. It is not my intention to condemn or accuse, because I do it as well. There isn’t enough time or space in our brains to take on each person’s story, but I wonder what it would be like to open up once and a while and invest in this.
Sometimes considering another’s story can help reveal necessary information. I heard a story about bullying yesterday, and it turned out two of the three bullies had personal stories of hardship that led them to a place where they sought control of someone they perceived as weak. That’s the classic story, isn’t it? But instead of investigating, we categorize them and move on.
Each person has dreams and hopes. Each one of us imagined what the future might bring. Whether we wrote it in a journal as a teenager or announced it to friends, or kept it to ourselves, we all designed a life. Sometimes things turned out well, and sometimes they did not. Each of us belong to a myriad of associations. All these nuances create the unique individuals that we are.
My mother is a beautiful woman. She enjoys cooking and knitting. Family is everything to her. She is more than my mother or my children’s grandmother. We define her by these roles, but in reality, they are accents to a well-rounded life.