A Stranger in Ourselves
By: Erin Mann
Everyone we meet is a stranger when we meet them, but how long do they stay a stranger? Do they ever really cease to become one? Do we ever really know what our neighbors, friends, family members, spouses, or even children are truly capable of? What goes through their minds? What they feel in their hearts? How could we possibly, when so often we are strangers to ourselves. Can anyone truthfully and without doubt or hesitation really know what they are capable of when backed into a corner? Much less, be certain of, in the predictions of another. In love, in hatred, fear, desperation, hope, depression, guilt, self preservation or in the defense of a loved one - any of us are capable of ANYTHING. Are we confident in our abilities to pass the tests that life throws at us - both in losses and victories? Will we keep our composure or lose our minds? Will we lose our temper or maintain a cool head, will we be able to - in the moment - take a step back and evaluate each scenario with an open, unbiased mind, or will we blinded to the thoughts and perceptions of others by our own agendas and opinions.
You see it on television and social media, hear it in a song or through an overheard conversation. The murderous wife, the adulterous husband, the abusive father, the alcoholic mother, the drug addicted teen athlete, the gossiping neighbor, the corrupt politicians, the hypocritical authority, the angry mob acting out in violence in the reaction of unfair policies. Unprepared communities with an unfamiliar microphone in their faces, as they stutter out the words, “nobody would’ve thought” or “I just can’t believe it”.
It is easy to pay lip service to the principles and moral fortitude we were taught. It doesn’t take much effort or contemplation to sit in judgment of those around us and chastise them with our thoughts of condemnation and lack of understanding and compassion. I have been that same hypocrite. “I would never let a man put their hands on me” , “If he/she cheated I’d leave”, “I would never talk to my boss like that”, “If someone ever hurt my child I would murder them”, “what kind of idiot would ever put up with something like that”, “if someone I knew was guilty of a crime I would turn them in”, “If someone broke into my house I would stab them to protect my family”, “If my friend ever lied to me I would never speak to them again”. But realistically, how many of those self induced policies and standards have we already violated, and the ones we have had the good fortune of not having faced - how do we really know how we would act or feel, what we would do in that moment? The fact of the matter is we don’t. No one truly knows how they will react in those and many other situations, not until you are forced to.
It is human nature to be instinctive and reactive. It is often difficult to control ourselves when we are choking on those feelings. We are an emotionally lead society. We sit in shock at the news channels when something horrific happens - cursing terrorists, worrying for our soldiers, disgusted by a parent that harms their children, send money to countries we have never heard of because the naked malnourished child across the seas ripped our heart out on a commercial. We yell at the television when our favorite football team scores or fumbles and cry when we hear a song that reminds us of something or someone we no longer have. We fall in love with a pretty smile and fairytale plagiarists, end it quickly over something silly or stay in it long past the expiration date. We eat things we shouldn’t eat, we say things we shouldn’t say, we disappoint others dispite good intentions, we promises things we can never deliver, and apologize for things we aren’t sorry for. It’s typical. It’s human - because to err IS human, and we WILL make mistakes or handle things poorly, but no one wants to be judged by those things. No one wants to be characterized by them for all of eternity, because at the end of the day we stand back up, we grow and we learn. How much of life is wasted in regret and misunderstanding - wasted years of animosity blaming other people for life’s misfortunes? Sometimes bad things just aren’t anyone’s fault, and, yes sometimes it is the fault of another, but there is a third option that so many of us forget or lose sight of. Sometimes it’s just our fault.
Most of us don’t know what it is like to take the life of another, most of us don’t know what it is like to be so afraid of another person that it causes a literal paralysis of choice and self esteem. Most of us don’t know what it feels like to have lost a child to death or watch the destructive force of a terminal disease torture a loved one a daily basis. Most of us don’t know what it feels like to have your own body or mind be your enemy, existing in a constant pain that overshadows anything beautiful.Most of us don’t know how it feels to not have anyone in the world to turn to, or to walk down a cold dirty street with holes in your shoes, or no shoes at all, to wonder and pain over where your next meal will come from or what temporary form of shelter will allow you a few paranoid moments of sleep. BUT some of us do, and each of us has either risen to the occasion or drown in the quicksand that surrounds. You can’t know how you will survive through it or how you will feel in it, and all anyone can do is put their best foot forward and do the best they can with what they have to deal with using the tools that they are given.
So next time you flip on a lifetime movie about a battered woman that stayed too long, or an abducted college girl that should’ve known better than to get in that car, or shake your head as you scroll the newspaper article about the young person speeding down the highway late for work and caused an accident that cost people their lives - just remember that you have made mistakes and taken risks that others wouldn’t have necessarily agreed with or approved of. Remember that even though you have been fortunate in your consequences or lack there of, that you are not immune and you too could face these unimaginable circumstances one day, and if and when that happens how welcoming would you be to gossiping mouths and self imposed lectures of superiority from people who have not traveled the road that you are on. And most importantly remember, that most of us have a stranger lurking inside, that even we have not meant, unsure of what even ourselves are capable of in the most intense or unexpected moments.