During one of my recent walks, I was thinking about a conversation I’d had with a friend a few months ago. The friend had broken off a relationship with someone he’d previously known through the community for almost 20 years. He was surprised by how complicated her life was beneath the surface and a number of very unhealthy choices that she’d made, those that people make who have an extraordinary amount of pain and suffering, with which they are not dealing well. I told him, “I see lots of families in my practice who I imagine appear very different to people who have known them for years. You just don’t know what is going on in people’s lives.”

I was thinking about this, about the lives we lead on the inside that don’t match our outsides. We just don’t know what people are going through. Sure, some people wear their pain on the outside because they cannot contain it; some wear it like a badge of honor. But many of us go along with our daily lives carrying heavy burdens. I thought about the interactions I have with people everyday and my own natural tendency to assume that people are similar to me. Given that I am an empathetic person and a trained mental healthcare provider, I can quickly shift this set point but there are many interactions we have in our own lives that are so short that it is difficult to do this.  And even still, sometimes we just don’t know.

In my musings, I reminded myself of how important it is to be kind and to give people the benefit of the doubt. I am also mindful that to do so is also better for my health. Maybe the driver who cut me off really is an asshole? Is it really good for me to hold onto that thought and the anger that accompanies it?

By then I had arrived at my neighborhood coffee shop, Bird on a Wire. Elton John’s, Rocket Man, was playing. Angel, who was making my latte, looked up at me and said quietly, “This song reminds me of my dad.” Angel is a young man, still in his twenties. Nonetheless, I asked, “Is your dad still living?” “No”, he responded, still quietly. I asked a couple of questions and learned that Angel’s father died 6 months ago within a week of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Angel is a kind and gentle person with a spritely sense of humor. He is one of those people who exudes kindness. He loves community and will go out of his way to not only learn the names of the customers, but to introduce them to one another. Angel has made many lattes for me in the past six months. I had no idea.

He said, “I’m sorry.” “Angel, there’s no need to be sorry. That is something I would want to know.”

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

I grabbed his hand and squeezed it.

“Angel, people care for one another. That’s a very good thing.”