Last year, I visited Vermont and decided to take ski lessons. I love skiing but, having lived in Southern California for most of my life, I hadn’t had many opportunities to ski. Now that I live on the East Coast, I thought to take advantage and hone my skills on the slopes. When I met my ski instructor, an elderly, rural man named Ted, my first response was one of trepidation, but I felt with his age he must have had a lot of experience and would be a safe skier. We reviewed the basics and before I knew it we were headed up the slope for our first run. Little did I know, my ski instructor would relay much more information to me than just proper form and safety.
As we began, I couldn’t help but notice an excitable energy within him and though he was very sweet, I continued to have an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Slowly, the feeling began to calm as we shared our signs, me a Virgo and him a Gemini, and once he discovered what I do, his entire life-story was pouring out. While this experience is not new to me, it seemed as though he hardly took breaths between going from one life challenge to another, so much so that I had to interrupt him to ask my basic and immediate questions like “When do we get off the lift?” and “Is it a steep incline?” His mother suffered extreme mental illness and his father was an explosive alcoholic, he left home at 18. Ted himself was also an alcoholic, for which he sought help after his 2nd failed marriage. I am always struck by people’s stories. I would never have known that this sweet, albeit quirky, man would have had such a tumultuous upbringing.
By the next day, if you can imagine, he spoke even more openly with me. We were on a new chairlift this time and heading to a more difficult slope, my skis dangling over a much greater height. As we rode up, he shared with me another experience with his family. He said he didn’t spend much time with his father growing up. He resented him for being a mean drunk and taking it out on his mother. One day when in his frustration, Ted yelled out to his father “I’m going to kill you!” The very next day he was sent to live with his Grandmother. I personally thought that was a little extreme. He then explained that his Grandfather and Uncle had passed away on the same day and, while he had always been curious about it, it would be years before his Grandmother explained how they had really come to pass. Ted’s grandfather had owned a butcher shop and Ted’s eldest uncle had all of the burdens of running the company. They didn’t know at the time that his grandfather was in deep depression, they just thought he was lazy and undisciplined.
Finally one morning as his uncle was preparing for work, he told his brothers to wait in the van and that he’d be right back. He ran back into the house and up to his father’s bedroom where he proceeded to killed his father with a meat cleaver before shooting himself in the head.
Needless to say, I did not see anything like this coming. I had already been surprised by this man’s story and this facet had me even more aghast. It was a testament to how we really never know what is beneath the surface of the people around us. We all walk around with movies in our heads and are the sum of our experiences both good and bad.
The story may be morbid, but it brought about an amazing realization… though his story was shocking to me, it was only a day earlier that we were connecting via astrology, talking about life, dreams, and purpose, and enjoying the ski slopes together. I had no idea at that point the kind of life this man had had, and that there was a real possibility he would have, one day, murdered his father.
The overall point of this experience is that we all may be different but we are just as similar. Kabbalah teaches that, on a soul level, we are all the same and all connected. This feels good to us when we think of the people we love but what about the people that make our skin crawl, the ones that we might judge as “bad”, “dangerous”, “criminal”?
The Roman playwright Terence said, “We are all human, therefore, nothing human can be alien to me.” It would be very easy for me to say, in the face of this man’s uncle, “I could never do that.” The difficult truth is that, as human beings, we have all the same components. I’m reminded of a story from Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear. A woman, whom many people knew and admired, was enraged at her ex-boyfriend and sometimes fantasized about killing him though, of course, she never planned on following through with it. One day as she was driving, she saw her ex-boyfriend in the crosswalk ahead of her. Rage rose up inside her and she pressed her foot on the gas, accelerated to 50 mph, and headed right for him. Thankfully she only clipped him, but his survival is the only reason we don’t know her as a murderer. All of the components were there, but thankfully the actual act was unsuccessful.
If we accept the fact that we are capable of acts that we judge as heinous, we can also accept the fact that we are equally capable of acts that we deem as miraculous. This can help us to understand that we are not as different, or as separate, as we think. We never know what someone’s past looks like, and where we might negatively judge them based on surface evidence, they may actually be doing incredibly well given their circumstances. By setting aside judgments we can get to know something new about someone else and, in the process, discover something about ourselves. It can begin with setting aside judgments and looking to know something deeper about everyone we meet.
THOUGHT IN ACTION
The next time you meet someone new, ask them about themselves. Look for ways that you might be similar instead of judging the differences, whether they’re good or bad. A little benefit of the doubt goes a long way.