I often think about sliding doors. Well, more the concept of missed tragedies and missed opportunity than actual sliding doors. There is a movie with Gwyneth Paltrow that is about a woman who has a split second slip up, and misses catching her train just as the doors are sliding shut. The movie goes on to show two different stories of her life, paralleling each other – one if she had made the train and the other if she had not. That’s how I often feel about my life.
There was a time in my early twenties when I spent the holidays with people I hardly knew, yet were also trying to get their lives back. I did this not because I was volunteering or participating in a charity event. No, I earned my spot there, just like the rest of the folks. We were from all walks of life, all having different stories, but still ended up sitting next to each other, sharing meals. I saw a part of myself in them, despite the differences.
However, somehow I got on the other side of the sliding door.
We Are More Alike Than Different
We tend to categorize people. It’s often just in our human nature to identify certain people with their afflictions - that's the man who has cancer, that's the woman who can't feed her family, that's the couple who can't have children. I'm not advocating ignoring identifying facts about people, but instead to look beyond these single characteristics, when looking at a person.
We are more than our successes and our failures. It is rare to find anyone immune to the hardships in life. It may be a hard concept to swallow, but we are more alike than different, what separates us is so minimal compared to what brings us together.
Although this is a time of thinking of others, it’s more the case that I think of myself. I think of myself, when I see someone in an unfortunate or challenging situation, and I think, “It could have been me.” For whatever rhyme or reason, I was one of the lucky ones. I managed to be on the other side – for today.
When passing the person asking for help on the street, seeing the struggling single mom, or even the obnoxiously pushy person at the office – think of yourself. Think of your story, good times and not so good times, acknowledging we don't always know the stories of others. Things aren't always what they seem. Give your understanding and compassion to others, knowing that if not for certain sliding doors, it could have been you.
Living in Gratitude is Something We Can Control
This is not to propose we live in fear, but instead to live in gratitude, and looking for where we can give. We cannot control much in our world, but we can control our actions, specifically what we give.
And we don’t have to always give financially. We can give a thought, a prayer, a handmade gift, even a smile or a helping hand.
So, today, especially this time of year, I am reminded of my humble beginnings into adult life. For whatever reason, I was given another chance. And while some moments are tougher than others, I have a beautiful life before me. So, when I see someone who is struggling, I don’t give out of pity, obligation or guilt. I give out of gratitude, knowing that if not for the kindness and compassion of my family, friends and even strangers, it could have been me.