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We never know the backstory

Public encounters with strangers or people we don’t know well can be fraught with misunderstanding and judgments. The reality is that each person in any encounter comes to that moment with a story, a history – it may be full of pain and suffering. We just don’t know.

My friend’s facebook status caught my eye and it pierced my heart. She had been to our local grocery store. Sometimes she walks with a cane – the rheumatoid arthritis pain is just too much to bear. A stranger yelled to her “why are you using a cane – you are too young for that”. It stung. She had been judged right there in the produce aisle.

Going to the library is one of life’s greatest joys for this bibliophile mom and her two daughters. It was a beautiful sunny day. The girls bounded from the car with excitement. My youngest tossed back over her shoulder, “Mom can you grab my bag?”. That’s how we cart out the big stacks of books that we mine from the shelves. I picked up the bag and the stranger said, “NOOOOOOO, she needs to learn to do things herself.” In the past that would have stung and my defensive self would have at least thought – “do you have any idea how hard I have worked to get this child to trust and attach to me. What is the big flipping deal about getting that bag for her?” Thankfully on that day I said, “Is that your perspective? I disagree, this time.” We are working on independence, but it is a careful dance. I was at peace with my choice to help on that day.


Victoria is a beautiful 3rd grade girl. Being a reading buddy group leader with 6 children in her class is one of my life’s greatest joys. Before the experience of raising children with trauma, I would have had some very strong thoughts and opinions on the fountain of lies that bubbled from this child’s mouth and heart. Knowing what I know now, my response was, “I wonder what kind of trauma is going on in her home?” I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that mid-year Victoria told me one of the only reliable things she ever spoke to me – her grandmother had come down from Chicago and soon the two of them were leaving together and heading north. Leaving her mom, who despite what was happening, she loved and idolized. Settling in with Grandma in a cold and distant place. She hoped to be back by 4th grade. I doubt that is how this story will unfold.

The lesson for me is to offer grace and mercy to those that cross my path. I wonder what led that lady to yell hurtful words to my friend in the grocery store? She certainly wasn’t mindful of the backstories of others. And the library lady. What pain led her to interject herself into my family on that day? And precious Victoria – I bet my heart would break over the details of her backstory. We just never know.

PS I am working to create two different blogs – one will be primarily about parenting things and the other on my journey as a recovering legalist. I will keep you posted.