This I Believe

Bernadette - Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Entered on April 19, 2006

What I believe can be summed up in four simple words, but finding those words wasn’t so simple.

There was a time when a supermarket clerk could hand me a long frown with my change, and I left the store feeling like a rotten apple had been dropped into my grocery bag. I once considered adrenaline-charged drivers who threatened to shear off my front bumper in the freeway race as a personal assault, or the passenger on an overcrowded bus who neglected to removed a bag from the last remaining seat, a source of emotional discomfort greater than any physical one. It was all part of life, I reasoned, but it troubled me that these encounters left me feeling like I was carrying around useless mental trash, with nowhere to dump it.

It wasn’t until I encountered an exceptionally unhappy co-worker in a former job, that what I finally came to believe changed my outlook on life. This particular employee had a habit of criticizing everyone. Most of the staff kept a safe distance to avoid confrontation, and advised me to do likewise. Instead, I tried extra politeness, which was the very tactic that made me a target one day. I was devastated by a verbal lashing, accusing me of being weak and insincere. Though I reasoned it wasn’t true, I was still reduced to a quivering heap of gelatin, sliding home that evening to call a friend who would surely listen to my poor pathetic tale. After I had emptied my trash bag out over the phone, she was silent at the other end, before I heard those four simple words that changed everything. “You’re not in it” she finally said. “If it wasn’t you” she explained, “it would be someone else. You don’t know anyone’s whole story, and obviously no one knows yours; there’s always a reason behind someone’s actions, and you don’t always need to know what it is. What’s important is to know when you’re not in it”.

Those four words, “you’re not in it”, became my slogan. They offered a place to deposit the debris I was perpetually hauling around. I thought back to the encounters that negatively affected my perspective, and realized how often I made judgments when I couldn’t begin to understand the complexities of life that motivated anyone else’s behavior.

From that day on, I saw others in a new light. And these days, what I believe leaves me free to move on without carrying that useless burden. I understand that by not making assumptions, I’m also not weighted down in spirit. What I believe makes life far richer, and the journey much lighter, just for knowing when to tell myself: “You’re not in it”.