Sometimes insights into the human condition come in mysterious ways. Well, maybe not so mysterious. Experience is a great teacher, as I recently found out.
A few days ago, my arthritis flared up, in my left knee this time. It felt like a pieces of bone had broken off and were roaming about the back of my knee, damaging every bit of tissue it encountered.
It got so bad I could not walk without searing pain. The doctor later asked, “On a scale of 1 – 10, 10 being worst, how do you rate your pain?” I answered, “150”. He gave me some anti-inflammatory medication and sent me on my way, in a wheelchair to the car and home to my walking stick.
As I went to bed later that night, I stumbled down the hall, thinking to myself, “I look like an old crone walking down the road with my long gray hair and my walking stick”, because the most painless way to walk was hunched over with knees deeply bent, grasping the stick for dear life, or so it seemed to me. All that was missing was the wart on the nose.
I got to thinking of images of “old crones” from childhood memories of fairy tales and witch lore. They are often portrayed as ugly spiteful old women, full of curses and evil spells. What if they are really just old women with severe arthritis, suffering beyond belief in a time and place without modern medications or even understanding of what was happening to their bodies? What if they were grumpy and disagreeable because they were mocked by older children, feared by the younger ones, and adults were impatient with their slower pace?
I’ll never look at an old crone the same way again. In fact, I think I shall never look at a homeless person or a person with mental illness the same way, or anyone for that matter. The following poem, written by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895 sums up the matter and may very well be a solution to the tendency of today’s society to judge too quickly those we perceive to be modern “old crones”.
Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps,
Or stumbles along the road.
Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same load.
There may be tears in his soles that hurt
Though hidden away from view.
The burden he bears placed on your back
May cause you to stumble and fall, too.
Don’t sneer at the man who is down today
Unless you have felt the same blow
That caused his fall or felt the shame
That only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, unknown to you in the same way,
May cause you to stagger and fall, too.
Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins.
Or pelt him with words, or stone, or disdain.
Unless you are sure you have no sins of your own,
And it’s only wisdom and love that your heart contains.
For you know if the tempter’s voice
Should whisper as soft to you,
As it did to him when he went astray,
It might cause you to falter, too.
Just walk a mile in his moccasins
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse.
If just for one hour, you could find a way
To see through his eyes, instead of your own muse.
I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind and narrow-minded, even unkind.
There are people on reservations and in the ghettos
Who have so little hope, and too much worry on their minds.
Brother, there but for the grace of God go you and I.
Just for a moment, slip into his mind and traditions
And see the world through his spirit and eyes
Before you cast a stone or falsely judge his conditions.
Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins
And remember the lessons of humanity taught to you by your elders.
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave
In other people’s lives, our kindnesses and generosity.
Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.