I have an intense love/hate relationship with a photo of me that I posted on Instagram earlier this week. Perhaps some of you scrolling through your feeds saw a picture of a messily dressed woman half smiling and half grimacing in front of a beautiful waterfall surrounded by a lush green forest. This photo was taken at Multnomah Falls outside of Portland only a few weeks after I left the Big Island, was robbed of all my possessions, moved to a new city, and my closest friend had just died of cancer.
Almost immediately after I arrived in Portland, I began to experience severe physical symptoms of my own illness, and without health insurance, I was absolutely terrified. Because of the extensive nature of the robbery all of my accounts including my credit cards had to be shut down, and when I contacted my bank about my checking and savings account they said all of my money was just “gone.” No explanation. No record of withdrawals. Simply gone.
I was about a mile beyond complete despair and could not have had less ability to hold my head up through…anything.
When my partner finally arrived in Portland after six weeks of us living and loving through a telephone with an entire ocean between us, we made an effort to embrace Portland as well as our current circumstances despite my profound desire to hide under my comforter. We hiked to the waterfall you see in the photo in an effort to regain some sort of connection to the world and take in some of nature’s medicine.
A few steps away from the waterfall, I passed a group of hikers who began to loudly and aggressively make fun of me for what I was wearing. They had no idea of course, but after my robbery, these were some of the only clothes I had left. And with any cash I did have being allocated to regaining lost documents like my birth certificate and passport and the deed to my home, new clothing wasn’t a priority.
As I walked on in embarrassment and disbelief, I could still hear one woman in the group cackling about how I looked ridiculous and didn’t belong in the outdoors. I know it sounds stupid and insignificant after everything that happened to me in the weeks prior, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I literally felt broken.
Why bring this up?
You never have any idea what is going on in someone else’s life.
Yet there is this constant call for “authenticity” in life and in online spaces. Maybe the question isn’t, “Why aren’t more people being authentic?” Perhaps the real question is, “Do I have the capacity and compassion to hold space for others when they reveal their truth?” Can you do that for people you admire, for people you barely know or people you loathe? Is your compassion only reserved for people who have “earned” it or is it free-flowing?
How would we walk through this world if we took into account that we have no idea what other people’s burdens and experiences are?