One hundred articles ago, I wrote a piece called ‘You’ that was well received. You can read it here:
I wrote about what I knew of my readership, and the journey each of you has made from the day of your birth until now. Some of the greatest difficulties, some of the most fiendish cruelties you endured, have led to remarkable acts of compassion. You bore the burden of disappointments and mistakes (as we all do) as well as the lightness of surprises. You survived. You thrived!
I even presumed to guess a bit at the state of your hearts. I wasn’t wrong. We go through times when there are not enough tears for our sorrow, there is not enough laughter for our all-too-short joys. But I didn’t really acknowledge, even to myself, the depths of those sorrows and the obstacles to reaching those joys.
Looking back at the years between ‘You’ and now, I see I wrote with some naivete. In the interval, I have met a lot of people whose life-journeys have been considerably more traumatic than I’d imagined in 2014. I found some of these people in chatrooms for PTSD, Emotional Abuse (and to my surprise) Writers and Authors. The descriptions of hardship went beyond anything my mind could have created.
I also found these people in the string of hotels I haunted. They were not always guests. Staff who seemed to attract the most cunning of lovers—liars, manipulators, abusers. People who worked the most disgusting and demeaning jobs (they will never pay hotel housekeepers and maintenance staff enough) to support families and the occasional deadbeat boyfriend. People whose jobs in hospitality exposed them to late-hour isolation and frustration.
One of the more compassionate guests I met was a member of a street gang. He’d spent one third of his life in prison, and his income was almost certainly from low-level crime. He did this to support a mother in cancer treatment (I met her too), to raise younger siblings firmly and lovingly so they did not turn out like him. He taught me a lot about street gangs and their structure (there is a laudable code of conduct in a gang). Apparently, part of the street-gang code was never leave an old man abandoned—see him safe! This fellow did—several times. I have never known why he picked me.
As I learn more about what others have been through, and what they’ve had to endure to be in the world to-day, I think it is nothing short of miraculous. I wasn’t wrong when I wrote about the experiences of people, their struggles and sorrows, their triumphs and joys, but I understated things.
Many people struggle for identity—mental illness, social alienation, financial hardship are a few of the factors that make that almost impossible. Understanding who we are is the platform on which many of our choices are based. Many of our trials remain hidden. Acts of kindness do not, or at least, should not.
There are many people I want to address, and sadly, I know they will not read this. You have read it, and I do know a little something about what you’ve been through, how you’ve succeeded even a little bit in the face of disaster, and I can say without fear of naivete or understatement: