I flew across the entire continental United States yesterday. Portland to Washington, D.C. is no joke: six whole hours in the air, plus layover. I could get from D.C. to Paris in about the same amount of time. I’m not complaining: Portland was great. But, you know. Paris.
Halfway through the first flight, I went to visit the commode in the back of the plane. I had to wait for it to be available and found myself inserted into a conversation between an airline attendant and a man in his late thirties. I picked up that the man was a retired police officer. He had brown hair, a sweet disposition, and was remarkably heavy. I didn’t think much of any of this until the man shared with the attendant that he had been shot four times during a drug bust.
“One of the bullets went straight through my chest, yeah,” the man said. He said it like it was no big deal, like plenty of us get shot in the chest.
“Oh no!” The flight attendant’s hand covered her mouth. I wasn’t exactly part of the conversation, but I gasped, too.
“Yeah. Crazy. I’ve gained eighty pounds since then. That was maybe two years ago, and they’ve got me on all these steroids. It’s really bizarre, you know. I used to be really fit.” He said it matter-of-fact, but there was some shame, I think, in his voice, like he was apologizing.
There are so many things we think we know and we know basically zero things. Maybe I would’ve seen that man and thought, “Wow, he’s really heavy. Maybe he should take the stairs and not the escalator,” or some other judgey, useless thing. I wouldn’t know that he was shot in the chest at work and to keep his heart working or whatever so he can be alive for his son or whatever, he’s on steroids. Steroids cause weight gain in most people who have to take it.
Whenever possible, I try to find a Family or Assisted Care bathroom in public places. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have a private bathroom when you are a person missing several organs in the lower half of her body. Trust me. But if you were to see me go in, would you purse your lips? Would you think I’m going in to like, do my hair or just have more space? Would you give me a dirty look if I caught your eye as I went in because here I am a young woman in high heels, clipping along just fine down the airport terminal? I don’t look disabled. I don’t have a baby. But you don’t know my life. You don’t know so many things.
The guy who cuts you off in traffic shouldn’t. But maybe he’s got one last dinner with his kid before the kid goes to live with his mom in Mexico for the rest of the summer. (I know someone in such a situation.) We don’t know what people are up against. The only thing we do know is that life never, ever looks like we thought it would. Even when it’s good, it still doesn’t look like the pictures we paint in our heads.