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I write for a website and something made me pull this out of the archives and post here:

I was having a hard time deciding what to talk to you about this month. I had a list of possible topics, but nothing got me excited. I then ran across some old notes concerning a woman with whom I’m only mildly acquainted. Most people who work with her are usually left with a bad taste in their mouths when she leaves the room. She has a position of some responsibility for a rather large company. Although we do not work together, I happened to be present as unpleasant comments were being made behind her back, and all I could think was the old cliché about not judging someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

I set those notes aside as something to dig into a little further. The next day my mother and I went to get our nails done; and, as is usual, we ended up in a conversation with our nail guy. He’s in his early 30’s, born in South Viet Nam and came to the United States when he was in high school. A presidential campaign ad came on the TV that was on in the background, which prompted a political twist in the conversation. This part of the exchange was not important, but it sparked a heart-rending speech from our nail guy. My mother mentioned that Iraq was turning into another Viet Nam. With grace and passion, our nail tech (who shall remain nameless here) began to explain the lay of the land in that area of Asia, how Viet Nam contained essential trade routes to many areas of 3 other countries, and how that war (call it a conflict if you will, but guys running around shooting each other and bombing each other is a war) was a fight between oppression and freedom. It became apparent that he – although he was born during that war – feels extreme gratitude toward the United States and its people for the sacrifices we made to try to keep his people free from Communism. I freely admit that I never believed that we had any business fighting there. I think that, after all these years, he changed my mind by taking me for a walk in his shoes.

Back to our friend from the first paragraph. It seems I have one of those faces that people just can’t help telling their troubles to. Although I hardly know the woman, I found myself hearing her story. I had already given her the benefit of the doubt because she has a traditionally male position in a company chock full of good-ole-boys. That’s enough to make any woman worth her salt aggravated all day long. There are extenuating circumstances in her life that increased my respect for her step by step as I heard them. She’s a single mom with four kids, all teenagers at the same time. The oldest has been a problem for several years – drugs, drop-out, pregnant. Not long ago, a relative of hers was in some financial difficulty. This woman took out a second mortgage on her home to take care of the money issue and the relative moved in with her; the rent payments would cover the second mortgage payment she’d acquired by helping. A few weeks after moving in and before the first payment on the second became due, our friend goes home after a long day at work to find that this relative had sold all the furniture in our friend’s house and had disappeared. I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever want to wear shoes like those. They sound worse than the Cruel Shoes in Steve Martin’s book of that name.

I used to work with a really quiet man who seemed a little extra sensitive and who kept to himself. His antisocial behavior had won him a few titles among his co-workers as well as some intriguing stories about what his private life must be. He was ostracized by all his co-workers because he didn’t join in, didn’t go out for a drink or two and never attended any company functions. He was aware of what was being said about him, but he ignored it all and went on about his own business day after day. To our surprise, he called in to take three days off for a family emergency. A day or two later, someone saw the obituary in the paper. His mother had died after many years of battling cancer. His father was still alive, but also losing the battle with cancer. There were no other family members. This quiet, gentle soul worked his forty hours a week and then went home to nurse BOTH his parents at night and on the weekends. He never bothered anyone or had an unkind word to say. All he ever received from the people who worked with him for more than seven years was disrespect. Those shoes must give a person a lot more than just blisters.

My daughter went to college with a beautiful, intelligent, kind young woman. She never dated and kept pretty much to herself. She didn’t seem shy, but she steered clear of people. She had so much going for her. It was difficult to understand why she was such a recluse. Since my daughter is the person she is, she invited this young lady to share dinner with us one evening, and her story came out. She was an only child, born to hard-working parents in a small town. When she was 14 she dated a boy a couple of years older than she who, as boys that age will do, constantly bombarded her with demands for sex. She refused him every time. After a short time, she decided not to see him anymore. Over the course of the next few months, her friends, one by one, quit associating with her. It took about a year for the reason to surface. Since the house she lived in was in a rather remote setting and since her father worked nights, she and her mother were alone at home a lot. The story circulated by the boy with whom she’d refused to have sex was that she and her mother ran a whorehouse out of their home when her father was at work. Those shoes didn’t fit this young woman at all and were hideous as well.

It is not ours to judge. We never have all the facts. Even if we know the story, there is always more that we do not know. We are here to love and help each other. We are here to do our best to understand, learn and grow.

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