By Susan Elaine
"We truly never know what people are going through. Sometimes, a hard exterior is their way of protecting themselves and coping with inexplicable pain they may be experiencing, which most likely has nothing to do with us."
I'll always remember the first time I saw Katie. She had a hint of fire in her chocolate brown eyes and a determined look on her young face - determined to run after my son Sam, that is. She was running full speed towards him until our eyes happened to lock, at which point she made an abrupt u-turn and went off running in the opposite direction.
Sam had warned me about an ‘evil’ girl in the RV Park who was ‘always mean’ and who was ‘out to get him.’ At least that’s how he saw it. After my first encounter with her, I was actually leaning towards agreeing with him. Not about the evil part, but most definitely about her being out to get him.
The next time I ran into her was near the basketball courts where Jordan and I were sitting on a park bench. I was thoroughly enjoying listening to him play the guitar when all of a sudden Katie appeared, almost out of nowhere. She ran by us and proclaimed in a matter-of-fact voice, “My friend is only eight years old and he plays so much better than you!” Jordan smiled and told her he thought that was awesome.
With that unexpected response, her eyes darted wildly back and forth between Jordan and I as she struggled for something else to say. Then she was off.
I saw her a few more times and decided I would start smiling at her and saying hello whenever I would see her. I wasn’t certain how she would respond given my other brief encounters but I was nonetheless excited to pursue this little experiment of mine.
The next time I saw her I smiled and said hello. I was quite happily surprised when she returned my friendly gesture with a smile. Each time I saw her I smiled and waved and she reciprocated.
It looks like I wasn’t the only one striking up a friendship with her. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter Mel had been developing a quirky little friendship with the lanky girl. One day Mel walked by Katie and noticed her cradling a little box of treasures which she was desperately trying to conceal. Mel was able to catch a glimpse of what was inside. “I’ll bet you don’t know what’s in here!” Katie blurted out in a sing-songy tone. “Yu-GiOh cards!” replied Mel as she flashed her beautiful smile. Katie took one look at her, gasped, and ran off.
From that day forward, Mel and Katie have had a unique understanding between the two of them and continue to be friendly.
Katie has an old fashioned presence about her and reminds me of the character, Scout, from the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. The difference between Katie and Scout, however, is that while Scout’s father is an attorney defending a man wrongfully accused of raping a woman, Katie’s father is actually one of two registered sex offenders living in the small trailer park. That is a heavy burden for one so small as Katie to bear.
What Katie taught me
There are some whose exterior may appear rough and impenetrable, yet on the inside, they are soft and pliable and in need of someone to take the first step of kindness towards them. We truly never know what people are going through. Sometimes a hard exterior is their way of protecting themselves and coping with inexplicable pain they may be experiencing which most likely has nothing to do with us.
Resolve and Challenge
Beginning today when I come upon someone who seems to be grumpy or in a bad mood, someone who is being short with me or even downright mean, I will return their gestures with a smile, a wave, or words of encouragement and kindness.
After losing their home to mortgage fraud, Susan and her family moved into a short sale. A few months later when that home sold, she and her family packed up all of their belongings of nearly 25 years, stuffed them into two large storage units, and spent the summer living in a 90 square foot 1965 silver airstream at a trailer park. They all agree it was one of the best summers of their lives.