We had been out of town to sing at an early church service in Frankton, IN, and took a shortcut through the City Park in Pendleton to get home. The February Indiana Sunday morning was typical: overcast, gray, windy, and a raw 26 degrees Fahrenheit. We saw a woman in a white puffy coat with white fur around the hood kneeling near the pond in the park, with a 2.5 year old girl similarly dressed, except her puffy coat was pink with white fur. The little girl was trying to feed the ducks, who were disinterested and hunkered down against the cold.
For the next 1.5 miles between our house and the park, we created brief stories about the pair, feeding ducks, in the park, in the cold.
- Shouldn’t they be getting ready for church?
- Maybe dad was on a bender last night and they needed to get out of the house for their own safety?
- Maybe dad was a pastor or worship leader at a local church, and the mom and little girl spent too much time at church and needed some quality time away?
- Maybe the little girl is sick or has cancer, and she asked to go to the park and feed the ducks?
- Maybe the mom is sick, and they’re making memories one last time?
- Maybe the woman is an aunt who is trying to teach compassion and love for the environment to her niece?
- Maybe they just found out that dad isn’t coming home from Iran or Afghanistan?
- Maybe the mom and daughter live with grandma and grandpa, and the grandparents need a little break in the action?
- Maybe it’s all the entertainment they can afford, a few bread crumbs, to feed the ducks?
- Maybe they’re eccentric millionaires and just wanted to hang out at the park?
Many of us do it. In the absence of a story, we create one of our own, minus facts and figures. In our “the public has a right to know” information age, we conclude that all stories must be told. We cross our arms and demand to know. And when no story is forthcoming, we’re tempted to substitute one of our own construction. A friend, a psychologist, tells me that what we’re doing is “projecting” our story, or experiences, our problems and difficulties, into the lives of someone else.
Maybe it’s none of our business, and maybe we should just keep our snout out?
Perhaps the greatest gift, the pinnacle of compassion, that we can give someone else is blank page in our hearts and minds, so that people can write their story into our lives, and the world can become a less lonely place because we’ve offered friendship. Maybe…