“I always looked up to you.”
I commended my high school classmate for being amazing, when I had lunch with her in 2002. She is successful, highly educated, and very approachable. She has a way of making people around her feel comfortable and engaged. Always has in the nearly 40 years that I’ve known her.
“I was a misfit in high school,” I continued.
“Never completely connected socially with any one group, and I always felt out of place, not knowing the right things to say or how to start a conversation. It didn’t help that I was an awful student. But YOU. You had it all together; you were social, connected with so many people, and a great student. Everyone loved you.”
“Oh Kurt,” she replied. “What you don’t realize is that, by the time I was a Junior, I was coming to school drunk every day.”
I was floored, and had NO idea she was a heavy drinker, or that after high school she ended up running with a very rough crowd. I had no idea she sustained serious injuries during that time, and has spent a lifetime reversing that damage – both physical and mental. The force and internal fight that drew her to alcohol at such a young age is the one that defined several years of her future – and nearly killed her too. But she crawled out of the gutter; she got back on the street, and made something of herself. She thrived once she came to terms with her life.
But she never forgot that her day as a 17-year old started at The Bottle.
At that point in 2002 I realized our lives in the eyes of others can be skewed. The life we FEEL inside isn’t always visible to the outside world. Maybe this is by choice. We may do this for social stature, or as a way to lift ourselves up through denial. Some people look at struggle as weakness. We want to look strong, organized, fully in charge of the hustle. Sometimes we don’t want to be reminded that sometimes life sucks, and the quickest way to forget it is to bury it.
Humans can be highly skilled at hiding what we don’t want the world to know – sharing our “Instagram Lives” instead for an adoring public.
The world may not know the struggles we face. And alternately, the people we meet could be hiding a struggle from others. In short, we all struggle with something. The fight is more acute for some, but the fight exists. Mine is weight; I’ve struggled my entire life with extra pounds, portion control, and hunger. It’s pretty messed up; it controls my way and my day. Thoughts of food or meals seep into every activity, warranted or not, because I’m almost always hungry. Why am I this way? No clue; I’m wired for food, and it sucks. While my struggle can be measured differently against the reason a teen gets drunk every day, it is a struggle nonetheless.
So that person you think you know? You may not know them at all.
What you see on the outside is merely an aesthetic. Inside, that person might be hurting. Bad. You might not be able to see it. But be open to share in what they FEEL. If you have to, put away the politics – because pain isn’t partisan. Find common ground and build on it. Connect with their heart. Share in their struggle as best you can. And share yours with them. Love and understand that humans are humans. We make mistakes. Every one of us. When the minds align, all will be fine.
And eventually, you can look up to each other.