Beneath a Tattered Coat

“Do not judge by appearances; a rich heart may be under a poor coat.” ~Scottish Proverb

Waking up in a hospital bed after having been in a coma, Whitney Cerak’s parents discovered that the daughter they thought they had buried was alive. It was a case of mistaken identity.  There are many cases throughout history of people who look like someone else being charged with crimes committed by their doppelganger. The realization that what we are sure we see might not be what we think should give us pause. If you look at a kiwi and only see the prickly brown exterior, you’re missing out on a beautiful interior. It seems that there is a lot of wisdom in that Scottish proverb. We have to be willing to allow a person to remove their coat to show us their heart, though. unless we have x-ray vision.

Working in the yard, I noticed several holes in the ground and saw black and yellow creatures flying around the openings. With a limited knowledge of entomology, I guessed they might be yellow jackets and hoped they wouldn’t attack me. Sharing a photo on social media, I asked for identification of these buzzing visitors and advice for what to do about them. If you are allergic to the sting of anything, you might be already thinking, “I hope you killed those suckers!” (Several of my friends were in agreement with you.) I had asked, though, because I didn’t want to kill them unnecessarily. Luckily, one friend spoke up loudly, “No, they aren’t harmful. They are Miner Bees!” She said it a few times to be sure I heard her. When the expert came out the next day, he confirmed that, in fact, we had Miner Bees, not Yellowjackets. Their appearance might have been enough to doom them to death in another yard, but we have tried to take the time to understand how our actions impact the world around us, and these non-stinging pollinators have continued to live.

It’s a funny thing the way we make our minds up about bees, fruit, and even people. The Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”  I think most of us want the world to be happy, and we want to be happy, but it seems like a lot of folks are missing out on the compassion part of the equation. There are a couple of possible explanations: 1) some people are just unable to handle the emotion they feel when they see hurt in other people and 2) there actually is 1% of the population who suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder and are basically apathetic. That tells me that there is hope for 99% of the population.

Watching the man walking down the street with his dog in tow and a full pack on his back, I pulled into the market where he stopped. Explaining that I was working on a street photography assignment, I asked if I might take a photo of him with his dog, and he obliged. As I expressed my concern for his being homeless, he corrected me: he was houseless by choice, having traveled the country for ten years enjoying the people and sights, working odd jobs along the way to pay for his needs. Here was a man full of joy for the life he had chosen and full of compassion to help those whose paths he crossed. I was certainly richer for having met him.

Look at those whose lives are different from yours. Feeling compassion for others and acting out of that compassion requires you to be intentional. Someone who looks poor might be the richest of all. The one with the flashy things? It’s fair to say the bank balance doesn’t tell a person’s whole story. Open your hearts, show compassion, and find your happiness.

 

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