My travels today took me all over suburbia, from the newest neighborhoods with massive custom homes to the post-World War 2 bungalows. In the outer ‘burbs, there are many places where the agricultural community lives side-by-side with modern amenities. Driving on one back road, I chuckled at the sight of a herd of white-faced Herefords grazing in a field next to a large strip mall and posh tennis club.
And then, I saw this barn.
It was barely standing, with holes in the siding and the roof, and piled debris from the building on one side of the structure. (I actually did some fast and furious U-turns in order to go back and take a second look, and snap this picture.)
Directly across the street sat a “perfect” home with a wrap-around porch, vinyl siding, three-car garage and well-tended landscaping. (Even with the dregs of the recent snowstorm piled along the driveway and front walk, you could tell the hedges were clipped to perfection!)
Shack and Chic. Country and City. Cows and Suburbia. Dilapidated and Perfect. The journeys they find themselves on are all different, and yet the same.
Working in hospice, I become invested in the lives and needs of my patients. I listen to their stories, their questions, their philosophical reflections. I enjoy photos, listen to music, help write letters, and read Scripture to them. I learn so much. Oh, do I learn!
What you see on the outside can be deceiving. Inside the walls of beautiful homes, there are stories of great joy, worry and regret. Down the hall from a perfectly decorated game room, there is a hospital bed, or a countertop lined with bottles of pills. A camper may sit in the driveway, still covered in snow, the owner only dreaming of a drive to the Florida Keys.
Sometimes the contrast is quite striking. From outward appearances, they want for nothing: gourmet food, 24/7 private duty staff, gracious living with all the amenities. But once the door is closed and there is opportunity to share, there’s a different story. The ache of regrets and missed opportunities colors the few days a family may have.
In another home, you see there are needed repairs. It’s clear that the breadwinner is no longer working. The budget is shot after chemo and surgeries and hospitalizations, and there are grave financial concerns. The bills outlast the income, but laughter and joy color precious moments.
One really can’t tell from the outside what’s really happening on the inside. That family who looks perfect, is not…
And the impossibly dilapidated structure is actually quite beautiful…
And so, my chaplain’s heart stopped to wonder…
Do I see with an open heart and clear eyes what is truly going on behind the scenes? Or am I caught up in appearances and flashy “perfection?”
The bottom line is… we can never truly know what is going on in the human heart. I have learned this, to my embarrassment, when I make an assumption without taking time to really listen and absorb the facts.
Tonight I look around at our warm and inviting home, cats purring the couch beside me and many “creature comforts” at my disposal. Life is not perfect, but it is pretty darn good. May I not take that for granted.
Thanks be to God.