One morning out running with a friend, we passed an old woman in one of those motorized chairs taking her two small dogs for a walk. She gave us a smile that lit up the world and shouted out a cheer, as if we were finishing a race.
It was an astonishingly generous reaction. She wasn’t moping over her own inability to walk; she was celebrating our ability to still do so.
I saw her again a few days later while driving to work, and if it weren’t for the dogs and the same fleece hat that sat somewhat cockeyed on her head, I wouldn’t have recognized her. Her smile was gone, replaced by that straight ahead stare that I associate with nursing homes.
I am an impressively fast judger. If judging people were an Olympic event, if they could read the speed of our brain waves, I might qualify. If the judges rated contestants on accuracy, on the other hand, my Olympic dreams would be crushed. Until I saw this woman in these two different circumstances, I had passed a goodly number of people in motorized chairs and consistently mistaken their expression for their soul.
Perhaps accuracy is not the thing to aim for any more than speed is; perhaps the thing to aim for is exactly what this woman showed us: generosity and love. Accuracy is concerned with being right, but it might be impossible to be right about a fellow human being—or about a bird or a tree. If all of creation is a manifestation of God, then we are all, at our core, a mystery, and you can’t be right or wrong about a mystery.
That doesn’t mean we need to spend time with people who are harmful in large or small ways. It just means that if we can approach life with a wider lens, if we can greet each other as what we are—deep calling unto deep—we might smile and cheer more.