I believe there is error in assumption.
During a moment of beautiful silence at my eighth grade graduation, someone in the back of the church let out a loud snort, shattering the peacefulness. My classmates muffled giggles, and all they talked about at the reception was ‘that old guy in the back that was snoring.’
What they didn’t know was that ‘the old guy’ was my 9-year-old cousin, David. David has a mitochondrial disease that has progressed since he was born. He is now in a wheelchair, and cannot communicate verbally, but his mind is just as sharp as it should be. When someone cracks a joke, he laughs harder than anyone else—usually to the point of snorting. I was so angry that my classmates had assumed something so wrong, when I knew David was such an awesome kid. If I had paid attention to that feeling and been wary of my own assumptions, I would have never have come so close to missing out on some of the most amazing people and experiences of my life.
For the first three years of high school I lived by the assumption that the band kids were a different breed and were just weird. I lived in my sports filled life, surrounded by my jock friends. Being a smart person, I landed in honors classes, and by senior year had seen these ‘band kids’ at least twice a day for three years. By then I was confident enough that I wouldn’t ‘become’ one of them if I struck up a conversation, and decided it was time to bust out of my bubble. The one I picked to converse with happened to be the All-State, first chair, I’m-going-to-major-in-music-because-it’s-the-coolest-thing-in-the-world, flute player. I figured out her name was Patti by listening to our Calculus teacher take attendance.
Patti ended up being my savior. Our conversations and inside jokes were what got me through Physics and Calculus and English. But I started to talk to her about the drama on my sports teams, and friends that were fighting; things that I would have assumed just didn’t happen to band kids. Turns out it does.
Patti is one of maybe five people from my high school class that I still talk to on a regular basis. I affectionately call her ‘orch dork’ and she calls me a ‘tool’ and our crazy friendship goes on. I can’t imagine life before we were friends—and I can’t believe I missed three years of friendship because I assumed she was different.
There have been countless deadlines I’ve missed because I assumed the professor would remind us when the paper was due. There have been several raises that I never got because I assumed my boss would notice that I was a good worker and offer it to me. I have fallen victim to my fair share of misconstrued notions and missed opportunities because I assumed things would just happen.
One summer during high school I had to eat at a soup kitchen.
I bet you just assumed that I was poor, or homeless.
We ate there as part of a mission trip I was on. My head buzzing with assumptions of drug addicts and bums, I sat at an empty table to eat. A woman carrying a brown bag sat across from me. I swallowed my pride and introduced myself. The woman looked around, studied my face, and said, ‘You have no idea how nice it is to talk to someone normal.’ She talked for 45 minutes, telling me about discovering mold in her apartment, having to move out, her daughter not willing to take her in, and eating at a soup kitchen to save money for medical bills.
I’ve told that story to many people and most assume she was lying, creating a story to save face. Say what you will, but I’ve eaten in a soup kitchen and it’s not easy to step in that line. It’s not easy because of all of the assumptions flying at you from the people walking by. I’ve learned, and I am in no place to assume that her story is anything but the truth.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.