As I gazed out my office window, I couldn’t help but fixate my eyes on the woman who moved slowly down the sidewalk; she walked as if the weight of the world rested on her shoulders. The methodical way in which she shuffled her steps and the downward creases at the corner of her mouth seemed to signify a life absent of joy and a hidden sadness she couldn’t share.
The woman seemed to sense I was watching her. She stopped abruptly and turned toward my office window. Uneasiness gripped me as the sun cast the outline of her shadow across my desk. It was only when our eyes met that I realized this woman was a reflection me and my uneasiness turned to panic.
With her forehead pressed against the glass and hands cupped around her face, the woman mouthed words I could not hear. I rolled my office chair over to the glass window and positioned my ear to the pane, but heard nothing. The woman soon turned away and continued to shuffle toward her unhappy destination. It disturbed me.
For the rest of the day the image of the sidewalk woman haunted me. Why had I felt such panic when our eyes locked? I longed to know why.
That evening, after dinner, I sat down and opened the newspaper to the Hometown section. I stared in disbelief as I locked eyes with the same elderly woman I had seen earlier that day. The news article was written by her oldest son and as I read the words, a shadowy picture of me began to unveil; I struggled to hold back tears.
The woman’s name was Sylvia. She held a graduate degree, married her high school sweetheart after college and together they raised three children. To the outside world it appeared to be a picture perfect life, but there was nothing further from the truth. You see, Sylvia didn’t love herself and her job only served to feed on those insecurities to cultivate an attitude of defeatism.
Because worry was a constant companion Sylvia wasn’t able to enjoy life’s moments. As her children grew in age, they adopted mom’s worries and insecurities as a lifestyle; and Dad began to distance himself from the family with extended work hours.
The son’s story spoke of the heartache of living with a loved one who is unable to fully embrace love and themselves. In retrospect, he listed those things he most longed for as a child:
- For mom to have the courage to leave a job that fed her unhappiness
- To play catch in the backyard rather than three baseball games every week
- An acceptance that money worries are pointless; it will never create more income
- That less is more
- I’m not the sounding board for your unhappiness
- 15 minutes of your undivided attention
- That you loved yourself as much as I love you
- When to say no to activities, events and things that don’t really matter
- A clean house is not important to me if it means you can’t spend time with me
I folded up the newspaper and place it by my side. I quietly contemplated the story I had just read. In many ways it was my story and I didn’t want to end up as an unhappy, elderly woman who never stopped to smell the roses or took chances. The panic I had felt as I looked into this woman’s eyes was that very fear.
In that moment, I knew it was time to make changes, to love me and to follow my dreams. I needed it, my kids needed it and so did my husband. When the elderly lady peered into my office window she had said:
“Know what really matters. If your life is absent of joy, there is no one to blame but yourself. You get one chance at life so embrace it with everything you’ve got. You need to shake not shuffle your way through life.”