What Do You See?

I’m in the living room of my apartment. It’s 5am. I’ve been up most of the night reading “The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer. I left the finished book and my booklight in the bedroom, lying beside my sleeping husband. He hates to wake up and find I’m missing. He wanders from the bed half asleep, like a child who has just woken up from a nightmare, rubbing his eyes and muttering, “you left me”.

I’ve been slightly absent blogwise as of late. Why? Because I’ve finally hit it. That moment in life where you look around, where you’ve been, what you are, what you know, believe, hope, dream and say, “Crap. Who am I?” My husband calls it an existential crisis. I had to ask Siri what that meant. (Don’t judge! It’s the first one I’ve ever had.)

I was raised to think, feel, be, and do certain things. I’ve had many relationships where I was told what to think and who to be. I acquiesced for many years. Now I find myself looking at the world in a completely different way. It’s as though I’ve suffered for 28 years from a mental stigmatism and someone just handed me a pair of glasses. The world has come into focus but the sudden change left me with a crushing migraine.

One of the biggest changes I’ve had inwardly, is real compassion.

I’ve always been a softie, crying at films or books and crumbling into a hot mess when someone near to my heart experiences any sort of discomfort, but I think I missed what it meant to have real compassion for the people around me, those other lives that you brush with your fingertips throughout the day. I would see things, read things, hear things, and snap judge. A lot of people do this. Everyone probably. But I never realized until recently how wrong it was. Everyone has a heart, everyone has a story. Some guy cuts you off in traffic and you flip him the bird. Sure he could have hit you, but maybe his life is in crisis, maybe he’s just been diagnosed with cancer and flying down the highway makes him feel like he can run away from the fact that his body has turned against him. You don’t know. I don’t know.

Walk a mile in their shoes.

I hate canned phrases. They loose meaning, taste, texture, and nutrients from overuse. Yet this phrase keeps coming back to me lately. Walk. A. Mile. In. Their. Shoes.

We don’t try to see others, not really. When the lady at the checkout counters says, “How are you?” she’s just passing the time of day and expects the canned “fine” in return. A few weeks ago my husband and I were in line at Target. The lady asked me “how are you?” and I replied instinctively with a cheery “fine,” when in reality my heart and head were tangled and screwed into a gordian knot. I’m surprised my lie didn’t merit the tile floor below me splitting open to swallow my mortal flesh.

All that to say, I think I see people now. I haven’t learned yet how to deal with it, but I can see them. The man who holds the door for me at the library and smiles his “good afternoon” more with his grey eyes than his lips. The angry lady at the grocery store who is harassing the checkout girl. The checkout girl being harassed by the angry lady. The man on the side of the road, shivering in the cold, clutching a sign for food.

If seeing is a sign of life than maybe it’s the first sign that I’m beginning to live. If I live then maybe I can use my life to touch the needs in people around me.

So it’s 5am. I’m confused, awake, tired, frustrated, scared, hurt, and alive. ALIVE! Alive with a chance to live my life, not through others, but my own life. A chance to step out and try and touch the needs in other people with the gifts that I’ve been given.

I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I’m not even sure where this post is going! I guess I’m just hoping to be seen by someone. My husband sees me. He knows me. Sometimes I think he knows too much of me. But right now I just need to know that someone else out there sees me too.

Can you see me?

Author: Rachel Svendsen

Rachel is a poet and writer from Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and children. Her short story "Filling the Silence" received an honorable mention in the 2019 Story Embers short story competition.

26 thoughts on “What Do You See?”

  1. This post has helped me see you more clearly, especially the parts about not knowing what a stranger is going through on any given day and using the gifts you have to touch other people’s lives.
    The latter is very important, and as for the former, I think it is something children should be taught right along with stranger danger. Parents and teachers should tell kids something like this:
    “Be careful, for you don’t know if a stranger is good or bad. That’s why you don’t talk to strangers unless you’re with Mom or Dad.
    But you also don’t know if a stranger is mad or glad, happy or sad. That’s why when you see people you don’t know in public, you can give them big smiles. It’s even okay to say hello, as long as you’re with Mom or Dad. You just might make someone’s day that way.”
    This idea might be a little too risky, but hopefully it can be implemented in a way that isn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If you never stood in that man’s shoes, or saw things through his eyes, or stood and watched with helpless hands while the heart inside you dies. So help your brother along the way no matter where he starts. For the same God that made you made him too, these men with broken hearts. This is the intro to Walk a mile in my shoes. By Elvis Presley. When you wrote about walk a mile in my shoes this popped in my head.


  3. I relate to this. I think everyone that successfully grows up has an “existential crisis” along the way. Congratulations, you’ve reached it years ahead of the average for your generation! Everyone was raised at least to some extent to think, feel, be, and act in certain ways… And those whom it wasn’t forced upon in a more direct fashion, still learn to react in particular ways because of the environment in which they grow up. It’s a natural part of childhood as our sphere of influence is fairly limited. Perhaps there are parents who make an intentional effort to expose their children to a wide variety of thought and influence and teach them how to process these things and come to their own conclusions but I would say this is the exception not the norm. Parents naturally train their children to think, believe, act and feel in ways that are important to them and in line with the beliefs they hold. Part of becoming a mature adult is the freedom to evaluate those thoughts and feelings and beliefs that were “forced” upon you in one way or another throughout childhood and make new choices about what you believe and think and feel. We are always in a state of “becoming”… Healthy humans are not stagnant creatures. As we mature and are influenced by an ever increasing sphere we learn and grow and change. Now that you have the freedom to choose much of what influences you… How will that change who you become?

    As far as seeing others, one of the most helpful things I have learned is that anger is a secondary emotion. People aren’t just angry to be angry… There is something that has caused it. Usually there is hurt whether recent or far in the past that is causing them to react in anger. I actually think this is true for many behaviors…not just anger. There is always a “back story” and realizing this helps me give others the benefit of the doubt, to think kindly and compassionately towards them.

    I love “seeing” you a bit through your writings and think we could easily chat for hours on end over a pot of tea (or a few)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am very thankful for any of my family members who take the time to read my writings. I draw back the curtains to my heart in much of what I post here and find I can express myself much better than in ye olde conversation.
      Thank you for your insightful comment. It helped me put some of my struggles into perspective.
      I look forward to the day when we can sit down and talk over a cup of tea. 🙂


  4. Wonderful stuff Rachel, and really quite moving; truly. I always like to keep in mind that everyone has a story, and that what I see just now are but fragments of a chapter chanced upon randomly. I cannot possibly know the story, less still be in any position to judge it, based solely upon these fragments. Your compassion is a most precious gift to the world.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Part of what you describe, the need to see the world through the eyes of others, is why I write and act. Absorb the other, hold it dear whether it be familiar or queer, and you can harness the energy that awakens you at 28 years of age and in the wee hours.

    I hate it when my wife leaves our bed at night, too.
    “Where are you?” sometimes means, “I am floating away, hold me tight lest I go to far into the dark, dark night.
    God bless. It’s 5:00 a.m., I have writing to do.

    Liked by 1 person

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