I tend to think that I have, in some ways, lived a really hard life, but compared to what? Today I met a guy who has been tangled up in drugs and crime for years. He has been in and out of prison, and the scars on his face testify to a hard life lived. Most people would say he has had a hard life.
Have I struggled compared to that?
Speaking with him, he immediately thought that I had everything. He thought that I grew up rich in Highlands Ranch, that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. He thought that I was making huge sums of money as a dentist or something. He had a perception of me because I am a Caucasian who was dressed well for work, in a largely low income neighborhood in Denver. In his eyes, I have never struggled.
He has lived a life that has been rough. Drugs have consumed what he has known. Crime and violence have become a means to an end. Growing up in the ghetto, this is the life he has known. A white guy with a wife and a house, dressed like a professional; that guy must, in his mind, have it all.
But do I?
In some ways yes. I do have a house. I do have a car that works. I do have money for food every week. I do have what we need to survive. But, what about the rest of me?
I have never grown up in the ghetto, never been part of a drug deal, never been beaten terribly, never been to prison, never had to live the life the man I met today had lived. But does that mean anything?
What about the 2 years I spent in a suicidal depression? Does that mean anything? What about having a suicidal wife and just hoping that I was going to make it through the week without being a widower? What about the financial straits when we were convinced we were going to lose the house? What about all of that? Does it mean anything?
Yes it does.
Suffering is hard in part because suffering is not something we can compare. Which is harder: my having been suicidal or his having been through drug problems? The reality is: not only can we not compare, but if we could it would not matter. Both were terribly hard. Neither seems like the way life should have been, and that is enough.
The man I met today may think that I have it all because I have not had to go through what he has. In part this is true. However, my story is full of hard times and struggles. He may have seen a person today who felt like he was drowning, and assumed that I had never had to struggle. But my breathing now does not mean I do not know what it feels like to have to hold my breath. Some days I have felt like I have had to climb mountains to get above the water’s surface and gasp for air.
So the next time you see a person and assume they do not know what we have been through, hold judgment for a minute and listen. They may have grown up in the ghetto and been through a meat-grinder of a childhood. They may have had struggled with drugs. They may have been through family circumstances that make angry parents look like a walk in the park. Have they been through depression, divorce, abuse, neglect, family death, or brokenness? Maybe.
Today is a reminder, I have met many people who have climbed mountains to gasp for breath, and I’m one of them. And today I met another.