Today while walking across the campus at work to retrieve lunch from the cafeteria, I followed behind a lady who was saundering along. I noticed her attire and quietly wondered to myself, "I'm not sure that is up to the dress code." She sported a pair of capri pants that were wrinkly with a top that resembled a cotton tee shirt. But what I noticed most was her feet that moved slowly. Her black sandals appeared to be comfortable and somewhat nice. It was at that moment when I caught my analyzing slipping into judgement. You know, the way we human beings review another's appearance or behavior through our own limited experiences and our own personal filter.
I took the opportunity to correct my thoughts and go deeper. I gazed deeply upon her feet as she continued to walk in slow motion with her head tilted down. The cracks in her heals were difficult to look at. I didn't realize feet could look like that on someone who was not bedridden. I quickly compared them to mine. Again, correcting myself, I forced deeper thinking. I wondered if she was a mother or grandmother. Perhaps a great-grandmother. I wondered if she was so busy with the people part of life that she didn't have the time or energy left to care for her feet. I wondered how many hours in a day she sits at her desk or how many days in a lifetime she sits. I wondered if she is caring for an ill parent or spouse or child. I wondered just what her life might be like beyond work.
[Now, be assured that I am observing the whole demeanor of this woman to sense an unjoyfulness. Not just her feet. But they seemed to catch my attention the most.]
I also wondered what I most often wonder when encountering people at work. "Was she wasting her life? Was she at such a joy deficit with something in her life? Did she enjoy her work? Did she find value in the service that she provided? Do others tell her of her worth at work or at home? Did she settle for this job as a cost for some other area of greatness in her life?"
I try to wonder about other people, not through my eyes but theirs. I am a people watcher. I have always been. One of the most inconceivable things to me is people who go a full lifetime without finding joy in their jobs. I have no solid evidence that she does not have joy in her job. I suspect another 40 years will still not be enough for me to understand completely the circumstances that others endure - or acquire even merely a portion. I wonder about disappointments. Lately my most intense people watching has been done by pondering, "What opportunity costs does this individual pay, and what did he/she gain? Is it worth it?"
In my own life, I have had a series of events that have caused me to pause and earnestly ponder, "Is the cost too much?" There are periods in life where we must all pay a cost. When bearing children, we bear the cost of body changes and financial burden. When serving in the military (or have loved ones who do), we bear the cost of missing family members for periods of time and sometimes forever. When moving away for work, we bear the cost of not getting regular hugs from our family and friends we leave behind.
There are costs of all kinds to us and others. I am reminded of Rick Warren's statement, "Every act of our lives strikes some cord that will vibrate in eternity." (Purpose Driven Life, 2002) Indeed the costs for the choices we make, whether on a whim or based upon a deeply held personal belief, impact not only us but also those around us both today and in the future.
There are also costs of standing firm for what we believe in and for taking the disciplined steps necessary to move towards our heartfelt vision on how we can each change the world. This is whether from an international platform or the platform of a bed of grass while talking to a lonely neighbor. These costs are cumulative and often appear at seasons when our cost-vision is clearer for a period. I believe these seasons come with birthdays or loss milestones or with life changes such as a job, family situation, or geographical move. The costs are firm proof of our humanity. It is painful to see and to feel these costs.
It is this very proof of our humanity that we should embrace. I would personally do well to embrace these painful moments of counting costs with gratitude. Since I am in a season of counting costs, I will put down my pen and lift up my hands with thanks. I am deeply thankful for having something to count as a cost. It's not easy being thankful. After all, I am also human.
In the end, none of us can answer for someone else, "Is the cost worth it?" For none of us has the full picture into the circumstances and the hearts of others. Not even by looking at their feet.