Remembering we are all the same
If we can stop and see that the “other” is simply us reflected back, maybe things will begin to change.
This post was first shared in a Love Letter and then republished on my previous blog. As I begin dismantling my old site I wanted to share a few of the gems I find and felt this one was worth keeping.
If you subscribe to a few newsletters like mine you’ve probably been getting emails lately about how to navigate this world when it feels so upside down. There is bad stuff happening everywhere and with so many different forms of media available we are learning about it faster and more viscerally than ever before. It’s impossible not to see it, not to feel the grief and fear and anger that is warranted when faced with the brutal reality of what humans are capable of doing to other humans. I’m not qualified or even remotely intelligent enough to be able to tell you how we can make any of this better in the macro world but I wanted to share something that happened on Monday that put everything back into perspective for me.
I’d spent the weekend with family at my mum’s house on the coast. It’s the place I grew up and was the first time my littlest nephew, Sammy, had visited our childhood home (and dipped his feet in the sea!) so it was a special few days. After saying big mushy goodbyes I got on the train and prepared myself for a noisy two-hour journey back to London.
As usual, the train was packed, but I managed to get a seat by a grey-haired lady who was wearing a very proper pink suit. After half an hour of minding our own business we got chatting over our shared dislike of the crappy coffee they were selling on the train and from there a beautiful conversation blossomed. Margaret had been staying with her daughter in Dorset after arranging and attending her sister’s funeral the Friday before. Iris had died suddenly and out of the blue and as Margaret told me the story I had tears streaming down my face. They’d been best friends and spent every day together, going to bingo and arranging little trips away. Iris had never had children but she’d loved Margaret’s daughter like her own, and as I listened I couldn’t help drawing parallels between her life and my own.
Margaret told me stories of their childhood (they were two out of six children!) and how she’d “borrow” Iris’s silk scarves and curlers only to get into trouble with her big sis :-) She told me Iris had been crazy about butterflies, so much that she always gave her something butterfly-themed for her birthday — this year it has been butterfly earrings. While walking in the woods the day after the funeral Margaret and her daughter saw the most beautiful butterfly flying past. They'd both looked at each other and burst into tears.
“That was definitely your sister,” I told her and shared all the strange things that had happened in the months after I’d lost my partner. “They find ways to let us know they’re still around us.”
“But it’s not the same as them being here,” Margaret replied.
“No, it’s not,” I agreed and we were quiet for a moment.
“I wonder what will come out of this?” Margaret said and when she looked at me she looked just like my grandmother. “Maybe I’ll meet the man of my dreams!” That made us both laugh.
“Maybe you will!”
After an hour of talking and sharing and crying (me mostly) we arrived at Margaret’s station. I took her bags down from the rack and we had the biggest hug ever. Margaret asked my name and wished me all the best and I told her I would be thinking about that butterfly for the rest of the day. She waved to me from the platform as the train pulled away and as I settled back into my seat I immediately texted my sister.
In the cab on the way home I thought about how easy it is to fear others and how quickly that “otherness” disappears when we bravely take a moment to connect. I’m always very aware of how other people might perceive me because I have very visible tattoos on my arms. I’m probably the least threatening person you’ll ever meet, but my beloved ink is considered unpalatable by some and I fully expected Margaret (who's in her 80s) to be wary of me. But she wasn’t. In fact, I think we were supposed to have a conversation that day.
It’s not the first time I’ve been able to talk to someone about loss and grief as it was happening for them. ALL of us feel pain. ALL of us feel loss. We all want to be understood and appreciated and loved for who we are. Being human is actually really bloody hard and I truly believe we are all doing the best we can with the tools we have and the soil we grew up in. When you consider where we are on the evolutionary scale, collectively we're still toddlers. We’re still putting our fingers in sockets and burning our hands on the stove. We still lash out when we’re scared. We still hurt others when we’re hurt.
Maybe it will take thousands of years for us to evolve past this stage, but I do believe it starts now. If we can stop and see that the “other” is simply us reflected back, maybe things will begin to change.
This is a great reminder when we tend to put other people on a pedestal and think we're less than them. I often struggle with this when meeting new people. I'm so glad I came across your Substack newsletter. I loved your writings on your website.
Definitely worth sharing again, thanks Susannah