Brody: Learning to love the unloveable

Published 9:45 am Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Do you like to “people watch?” I truly enjoy doing it.

When I taught creative writing to seniors in high school, one of the major assignments for the semester was to “people watch.” Each student had to go either to the bus station or the train station in St. Louis and simply people watch.

Let me tell you, they saw it all.

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I told them if they felt led and comfortable doing so, they could strike up a conversation with someone they saw.

As they left class that day I said the following, “We are to love the unlovable.”

After they did this assignment, they really understood the significance.

I want to tell you the true story that taught me about this commandment.

My mother was in the hospital in Del Ray Beach, Florida, for an extended time and I was spending hours daily just sitting with her as she slept and talked to me. 

This gave me a lot of time to people watch.

While I saw a lot of love and courage, I also observed some real “birds.” For instance, a new patient admitted to the Hospital in the room directly across from my mother’s room.

This lady was maybe 38 or 40. and she looked beat up. I mean, literally.

Her eyes were black and blue, her nose spread on her face as if broken. My immediate reaction was pity.

That did not last long. Never, ever, had I heard anyone use such dirty and offensive language.

She screamed at the doctor and the nurses and mostly at her husband.

She fired the doctor right then and there. She kicked out the nurse, and believe it or not, she physically attacked her husband.

He tried to leave the room and that woman came flying out behind him.

Why was she livid? The best I could tell, there were two main reasons. She refused to use a bedpan and she craved a cigarette. It was a smoke-free hospital of course, but, believe me, she didn’t care one stinking bit.

Everyone tried to reason with her and my poor mother was very upset with it all.

Even more, there was another patient in the other bed who was gravely ill. Finally, a nurse came in and gave her some type of shot.

I put my head back against the chair and took some deep breaths. I began to mull all that happened.

What happened next was amazing.

My mulling can take me to some awesome past memories.

I remembered a man we saw in the Mayo Clinic hallway one time.

Crowds of ill people moved as one entity. This man was such a tragedy.

He was very small, dark-skinned with dark curly hair. It’s amazing we saw him at all as he was tucked in the middle of the moving human tide.

But when the crowd rearranged itself and thinned, there he was.

There he was: walking on his knees.

Both legs from the knees down turned back up paralleling his thigh and upper back. His bare feet were bobbing back and forth about waist high. In his hands he held two short canes.

Can you imagine the courage and determination to live, to come to the Mayo Clinic, and to walk like that out among the people? Many would say he was a freak even.

He could have been in a wheel chair but he chose to fight and live upright on the only part of his leg that functioned.

Isn’t it interesting as I sat mulling this screeching woman, demanding a cigarette?

Once I compared the two people, I realized both were in pain, both were victims of a cruel fate that had produced a damaged human being.

All the disgust I felt earlier as I had judged the woman dissolved.

I realized a truth: people don’t act that way for no reason.

The main difference I saw was his terror and pain had been channeled out of hope to live a normal life someday. She was lost, literally, and her terror of life was spewing everywhere. She could not accept help.

My students learned not to look at someone and judge them by what they wore, if their fingernails were cut and cleaned, even how they talked. This was not a religious assignment at all, but it sure was a life lesson.

Most surely a life lesson when I compared that woman and that man.

It is difficult to love the unlovable but the fact is we are told to do just that.

Ever since that day in the hospital with mother, I’ve been more aware of this.

The man in my story was terribly hard to look at or even to sympathize with. But he was there at Mayo asking for help.

Do you realize we don’t want to look at someone so disfigured and unattractive? So basically that person is hard to love. 

Then, the woman she was not open to help. Her ugly behavior made her very hard to love or even want to help her.

The next day she was asked to leave the hospital but I could see she was still desperately lost in the mire of anger.

So what do you think?

It has certainly given me even more to think about.

The view from the mountain is wondrous.

Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.