Monday, May 5, 2014

The Complexity, Joy and Pain of Human Interaction

Our lives are not easy.  

We all struggle, at different times and in different ways.  Rachel Joyce provided a very moving insight into a person's hidden pain in the book I recently read, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, A Novel.  I have bolded two phrases that really resonated with me.

“The silver-haired gentleman was in truth nothing like the man Harold had first imagined him to be.  He was a chap like himself, with a unique pain; and yet there would be no knowing that if you passed him in the street, or sat opposite him in a café and did not share his teacake.  Harold pictured the gentleman on a station platform, smart in his suit, looking not different from anyone else.  It must be the same all over England.  People were buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters.  And what no one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside.  The inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared both easy and everyday.  The loneliness of that.  Moved and humbled, he passed his paper napkin.” (page 89.)

A smile, a kind word or an invitation to go for coffee may make a difference in someone's life.
(It was a barista at Stumptown Coffee who created this beautiful beverage.)

Not all of us carry a secret that weighs heavily on us, as did the silver-haired gentleman in the passage above. But everyone has things that trouble them. If we can be aware of this, and take the time to be kind, it just might make whatever burden others are carrying a little lighter.  The silver-haired gentleman in the novel had just revealed to Harold (a stranger) some information he had always kept hidden.  Harold's supportive response of just listening without judgement was a gift.

No one can truly understand what someone else is thinking.  As Joyce pointed out, a casual interaction often does not reveal what another person is going through.  A person's demeanor may hide their inner struggle, or even change because of it.  When someone's behavior is curt or withdrawn, quiet or boisterous, bossy or shy, it could be more of a symptom of what is happening in their life, instead of an actual response to a situation.  The best response may be to give them the benefit of the doubt, respect their opinions, and give them an opportunity to vent and feel supported.

We all need to always try to be kind.  A minute of our time - even a smile, or an invitation to go for coffee or tea - might make a big difference in someone else's life.  We should all be less judgmental, more forgiving, and more accepting of others for who they are; and hope for similar treatment in return.

Harold's journey of self discovery provides (as stated in the summary by Random House, the publisher) "profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts."  I found this novel to be a wonderful glimpse into the complexity, pain and joy of human interaction.


  1. Such an important message to be more understanding and forgiving. What if more people did? It would really make earth a better place:) Thank you for a great post!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Linda. It is encouraging to know that someone an ocean away in Sweden has read and agreed with my thoughts within a few hours of me posting them. Our world really is a pretty great place!

  2. Such a great post. I think we have become in such a hurry these days that we forget that very simple thing - to be kind to one another. Thanks for reminding me!

  3. Lana, from what I know of you from your blog - you don't need any reminding to be kind! Glad you liked the post :)


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