I’ve been thinking about the saying, “Walk a mile in my shoes” lately and how there are two viewpoints to that saying. The first is from the person saying it, as if in challenge, as if to say, “You can’t possibly know what it’s like to suffer as I do unless you have the same experiences that I do.”
I know that place. I’ve had that feeling. After I lost my leg in a car accident in high school, I felt so alienated from my peers. They couldn’t possibly know what I was feeling. Like any normal high school student, I was desperate to be the same, to fit in, to connect with my peers. My accident catapulted me into another realm of consciousness and I didn’t know how to relate to them anymore. In my desperation I would think “Walk a mile in my shoes and then you’ll understand me, then you’ll be able to relate to me.” But the reality was, I wouldn’t wish my experience on anyone. Partly because it was too painful – why would I want anyone to go through that? And partly because it was my experience. No one else’s. Icky? Yes. But mine. I knew, from that early age, that everyone on this planet has their own experiences that have the potential for learning, growing and transcending.
The other viewpoint to that saying is from the person receiving it, the person who is hearing it. Do I take on the challenge to understand other people’s perspectives? Other people’s pain? Do I really try and know what other people go through? Sometimes I do; sometimes I don’t. And even when I do, I ultimately know, that unless I share the exact same experience, I cannot know another person’s pain.
As I was walking the other day and my prosthetic leg was rubbing in that unmentionable place, I tried to walk that mile in the shoes of someone living in Sierra Leone who needs to walk for her water. What is it like to have to walk for one of life’s necessities on crutches? In the midst of pain? How does one do that? I kept walking, as if my life depended on it; I just kept walking through my own pain. I don’t have scorching heat and oppressive humidity added to the mix – which would, quite frankly, make me wilt like an unwatered flower – and I have all the creature comforts I could ask for inside my warm home. In truth, my life did not depend on finishing my mile the way it does for people in developing countries. I could only imagine.
The important part of that saying is that we all walk our own miles. We all have pain that we can allow to separate us from the rest of the world. But I don’t believe it really separates us. When I allow it, my pain actually connects me to the rest of the world, just as easily as my joy does. I just need to allow it.