My travels on this road take me to places light and dark, always with the hope of making it to a place of plenty, a place of happiness, a place of peace. Still, that place, if it exists, seems always out of reach.
Instead, I find myself traveling with people who are happy and sad, hopeful and despairing, courageous and fearful. Some of the people I walk with seem easier to travel with than others. Sometimes we walk together for quite some time; other times I can barely stand to walk one mile with them.
I decided that my attitude toward my fellow travelers was poor; I wanted to learn to walk with and enjoy the company of more and more people. I wondered how I might accomplish this.
I decided I would treat everyone the same – like their attitudes and feelings didn’t matter. When a fellow traveler was sad, I ignored their feelings and remarked on the pleasantness of the day; when another was angry, I asked them what their favorite food was. When another was happy, I never asked why.
This decision left me without many traveling companions. So I changed my tactic.
I decided I would treat everyone as if they were me – like I understood their experiences completely. When one was happy, I told her I was glad, but that she should enjoy it while it lasts. To the next who was angry, I told him that he was going to make bad decisions if he let his emotions take charge. To the next who was sad, I suggested she look on the bright side of life – that there is always something to be happy about.
Again, I was left with few traveling companions.
I did not know what to do.
I sat by the side of the road, tired and thirsty and alone, and watched my fellow travelers as they walked by. I noticed a gurgling sound behind me. Water was flowing out of the side of a small boulder. I dipped my hands in the water from the rock; it was cool and clean. I drank some of the water and splashed some on my hot head.
When I turned back toward the road, I could…the only thing that makes sense is that I could…see through?…see into?…my fellow travelers. Most of them were adults, fully grown…but I could see through or into them, to a child inside. Every single person, young or old, had a child inside, maybe three or four years old.
I began to speak to the child inside a man who was walking by. I greeted him like I would have greeted my friend when I was younger: “Hi! Wanna walk together?” His eyes widened, and he looked behind himself briefly. “Yeah,” he said.
We walked together for a while. When he got angry about tripping on the road, I talked to the child inside him: “Tripping hurts. I’m sorry that happened.” His frown faded, “Yeah, it does. I’ll be okay, though.” We kept walking.
I wondered what it would be like to speak to my fellow travelers, acknowledging the child inside them all.
I wondered if my vision would fade and I would forget to treat people like they are doing the best they can.
I wondered if all of us just need someone to listen and respond to the child inside. I wonder if that’s the secret to walking with anyone.