A few months back my family traveled to the Upper Peninsula to visit my great Aunt Terry. While we were there, Aunt Terry asked my son to drive to the corner store and pick up some groceries. My son asked me to do it instead, so I obliged.
Later during our trip, Aunt Terry asked why my son had me go to the store for him. I told her that because of his diabetes, driving is something he is not very comfortable doing yet. She probed further, “You know, if he drives, he can be a lot more helpful. Your cousin's kids are already driving you know.”
Biting my tongue I replied, “That is great for Chuck’s kids. John is just not ready yet.”
I left the room and rolled my eyes when my husband looked in my direction. Yes, I may have been in judgment at the time… but so was she.
The next morning as I lay in bed enjoying the silence of the island, I began to hear murmured chatter coming from the kitchen. I snuck down the hall and avoided the creaky floor board so I could get better clarity.
I could hear John becoming audibly upset as my aunt pressed him on the issue, “There is nothing you need to worry about. Driving is not as hard as you think. Your mother could really use the help and you are just making things harder for her.”
With a snarky tone in his voice, John replied in anger, “It’s just not that easy. You don’t understand.”
With that, he left the room and I quickly slunk into the bathroom for cover. I heard his bedroom door slam shut and I counted to 10 before I left the bathroom, flushing the toilet for effect.
I entered the kitchen as Aunt Terry was pouring herself another cup of coffee. She greeted me with a raise of her eyebrows as if to say “what the heck is wrong with him, moody teenager!”
John stayed in his room most of the day, unwilling to go to the farmers market or antiquing with us. That night I knocked softly on his door and asked if he was O.K.
With a shake of his head and a tear in his eyes, I knew he wasn’t. “Can we go home early?” he asked, “I don’t like it here.”
When I probed for more information he told me that he felt very disrespected by my aunt, “She just doesn’t understand me. And what’s worse is… she doesn’t even want to try.”
“Did the two of you have a falling out this morning?” I questioned, “... over what exactly?”
John pointed to the car keys in my hand and muttered, “That.” he began.
“I tried to explain why I am not interested in driving yet and when I tried to show her my insulin pump she just brushed it off and said it was no big deal. She told me I was overreacting to my diagnosis. When I told her that my blood sugar determined my ability to be behind the wheel of the car she just laughed. Then she said that we were all being overprotective and I would never be a grown up!”
I hugged John until he stopped crying and I assured him that I would try to coordinate leaving early.
The next morning I invited my aunt to go to the local coffee shop with me. Once we both got buckled into our seats I told her I had to check something first. I turned on my phone and brought up a random number generator. I asked my aunt to pick one: “Even or Odds?” I asked.
Quizzically, she looked at me and then replied “Even.”.
I pressed the button on my phone and I got the number 120. “Great,” I told her, “We are all set.”
After coffee, I again turned on the random number generator before I put the keys into the ignition. This time I rolled a 63.
“We have to wait fifteen minutes and then we will try again,” I told her. I held the keys in my hand but did not turn on the engine. The windows were slightly opened, but nonetheless, the car heated up quickly.
“What are we waiting for?” she asked in anger and frustration, “I thought you wanted to go to the dairy and bakery?”
“I do,” I began, “but I have to make sure I get the right number first.”
After about 6 minutes, even I was beginning to feel impatient as a bead of sweat ran down the back of my neck. “O.K. Let’s try again,” I told her.
This time my number was 72. “Shoot. It will be a few more minutes” I said in exasperation.
“This is ridiculous” she scoffed as she opened the car door and got out. “When you finish doing what you're doing, let me know. In the meantime, I am going to start to walk to the dairy.”
Once she was out of eyeshot I rolled again. My number was 101. Thank god, I could finally start the car and get cooled off. I strolled down the road towards the dairy and pulled up alongside my aunt.
“Get in,” I said, “we can go now.”
She looked at me untrusting but got in the car regardless. “What was going on back there? I don’t understand why you wouldn’t just drive the car.”
“John has to check his sugar level every time he wants to start a car,” I began. “If he is not within a normal range he has to wait for his insulin pump to adjust his levels. If he drives when his sugar is too high or too low, he could get into an accident and hurt himself or someone else.”
“EVERY SINGLE TIME?” she exclaimed emphatically.
“Every. Single. Time.” I replied. “What we experienced was just a small example of what John goes through every time we ask him to drive. At this point, it is just too much to manage. That is why he walks to work and takes his bike to his friends’ houses. It is easier for him right now, at this stage of the game.”
My aunt looked at me with weepy eyes, nodding her head in understanding, “I just had no idea. As quickly as I got frustrated with you, I can only imagine what he is going through.”
We finished our stops at the dairy, the bakery and then home. That afternoon I looked out of the window as I packed our suitcases. I saw John and my aunt sitting on the porch swing together. She was crying and holding his hand. I could read his lips and he was saying, “It’s O.K.”
Not 5 minutes later did John come to my room and lean into the door frame with a smile on his face, “If it’s OK with you, I don’t mind staying until Friday. Aunt and I are going to catch a movie and then some ice cream.”
I looked at him quizzically, “You sure?” I asked.
“Yes, she understands. She finally understands!”
~ Cathy Braxton, Chief Education Officer, Silver Dawn Training Institute
When we can see life through the eyes of another, perspective taking we are on the road to understanding what life may be like for them. This perspective can help us to change the agendas we operate from so that we can create connection.
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