by Danetta Kellar
I have changed the names of the dear ones in this post to protect their privacy.
We had been in the ancient, spacious house for months. It had once sheltered three families, and now our small one took up only one wing. The old walls were constantly crumbling, and with only half a roof over the central courtyard, the birds and other less desirable animals came and went freely, leaving their own little dirty deposits.
Fighting the constant Sahara dust was a losing battle, and even if I threw water on the tile floors and squeegeed it down the drain, a fine layer of golden powder covered every surface again by afternoon.
One morning, my friend Hope came to visit. Morning visits were rare, so I knew this must mean business.
Our husbands were close friends. We had shared many meals together in one another’s homes. Hope was familiar with my housecleaning habits, and my funny American ways of dealing with clutter that differed so much from her own. She teased me for hanging my pictures in the middle of a big wall, instead of clustering all of them together along the very top.
Today Hope offered me a proposition. Obviously, to her at least, I needed help in my housekeeping battle. To prove it, she slid my sofa away from the wall and lectured me on the piles of dirt that hovered in the corners like guilt.
Hope had a sister, and this sister needed work. She could clean my house for me and I could pay her. A beautiful arrangement, after I swallowed my born-in-the-South-to-an-obsessively-clean-mother Pride.
I had no idea that day how much my life was about to change, that I was about to receive a friend I would treasure for years to come. I couldn’t have imagined the lessons I was about to learn.
When asked how the new arrangement was going, my husband and I would chuckle and say, “Mercy is a great housekeeper, but she’s not much for spider webs!”
Our 20-foot ceilings tended to have an abundance of grey webs, reminding me of the Addams Family mansion. At the end of a hard day’s work, the tile would be shining, the air practically sparkling with clean, but those spider webs would hang there, untouched. It became a private joke.
One day, Hope came to check up on our arrangement. After all, she had her honor to uphold, and it was her duty to make sure her sister was performing well. I thanked her profusely and praised Mercy’s diligence. Then I made a joke about the spider webs.
Hope got very quiet.
My mouth, my mouth, my unstoppable, unthinking mouth.
I wanted to disappear, to swallow that cheap humor back right where it came from. This silence just could not be good.
“Mercy cannot see beyond a hand’s reach,” Hope softly explained.
“The reason she lives with our father now is that she was rejected by her husband. He beat her and tried to blind her. She used to have a fine position at the bank when she was young. But now she cannot see to count the money. She cannot see your spider webs.”
Regret rolled over me in sickening waves. Tears sprang to my eyes as I realized the pain my friend had experienced. Mercy had never whispered a word of the abuse she had endured. Sorry just was not adequate for how I felt when I learned the truth.
You never know what someone else is going through.
We live life alongside one another, taking intimacy for granted and rushing to retreat from the commitment of carrying one another’s burdens.
How much we miss.
I later came to depend on Mercy for more than her house help. She became my sister, my confidante, my friend. She was with me during some of the most painful moments of my life.
But I never forgot the way I had casually made a joke about her without first spending time getting to know her better. Without showing her honor that she might entrust me with her shame. I grieved my immaturity and the pain of learning lessons the hard way.
Because of Mercy's story, I have learned to pause before I assume, slow down before I speak, investigate before I conclude.
In our rushing, we race right past the hidden hurts of others. In our busyness, we hide our own pain and don't take time to risk vulnerability and seek friendship. We reject, and we fear rejection. We assume we know one another without taking time out to communicate.
I carry this painful lesson with me today, many years later, as I walk through the crowds.
I wonder about the hurried mother ushering her children in the school door this morning. The sad smile of the young woman who served my coffee at the local donut shop. The old man I keep seeing at the grocery store all alone, buying only beans and bread.
Is it just me, or are there a lot of broken people all around us?
Take time to see them. Take time to listen.
Call the person who has been on your mind. Pray for the woman you met last week who has lodged in your thoughts ever since. Invite your friend over for tea even if you don't have time to clean up the house first. Take the risk.
Your life may change, you may find a friend you will treasure for years to come. I know I did.
Do you have a story like this one? Share the lessons you have learned in the comments section below.
Our society is rushing to retreat from the commitment of carrying one another’s burdens. (Click to Tweet)