Assumptions are a strange phenomenon. The nature of it is such that over time, we lose our ability to differentiate between assumptions and truth. They have such a powerful impact on our perspectives on the world, and on life itself. I recently had an experience that just affirmed that once again.
A few weeks ago, I was at a railway station in Goa waiting to take the train back home to Kerala after a week-long break. I am a bit of a ‘stickler’ or a little obsessive compulsive, especially while traveling on public transport.
In this state of mind, I am perpetually paying a little too much attention to my surroundings, to my hands, what I am touching, constantly worrying about cleanliness and hygiene.
So, we were at the station early and had more than an hour to kill as our train was running late too. My son Aman and I found a place to sit down and wait. He would go back and forth to the shop close by to pick up chocolates or snacks for the journey. My own attention was spent on all that was around me. I could see stray dogs walking on the platform, I saw that some passengers were friendly to them while some pushed them away.I had got myself comfortable with dogs very recently, and didn’t want to take any chances with stray dogs– something you find everywhere you look in Goa.
Walking or waiting all around me were hundreds of people who hailed from various walks of life. It was around seven in the evening. There was a woman brushing her teeth a few metres to my right and when I saw her walk up to the tracks to clean her mouth, I wondered to myself why she couldn’t she have used to washroom instead.
My son, impatient after a while of trying to make conversation with me, disappeared once again to buy a bottle of water and more snacks.
As I was waiting for him, I saw a man crawling on the floor in front of me. He was using his hands and folded legs to move around. All could think about was how unhygienic the place was as the platform was wet and dirty from the rains. I felt sorry for him and also noticed my feeling of discomfort watching him.
Next thing I knew, a bunch of kids found the empty spot where Aman had been sitting. Three girls and a little boy squished into the space next to me and I found the proximity extremely uncomfortable. I found myself a bit irritated as they had taken my son’s place. The girls arm was brushing my arm and their bags were close to mine. I looked up to see their mother standing beside them as she had no place to sit.
The girl sitting next to me looked like she was twelve years old. Her sister, who was much younger, sat on her lap fidgeting around, making uncomfortable amounts of physical contact with me. If this was at an airport, I think I would have been less bothered. I even contemplated walking away to find another seat but I couldn’t find any.
As I sat there, I noticed the wall of separation had already built between them and myself. It was like I felt I was better than them; that they were somehow less than me. This unconscious conclusion I had already come to, which I immediately realised, was a product of all the assumptions I had made at first glance. The kind of clothes they were wearing, their appearance, their bags, my pre-conceived notions and a few other factors had constructed this assumption before I had even looked at them properly.
Something then urged me to pick up a conversation with the girl. I asked her where they were from, where they were travelling to, and the conversation began. A conversation that made those invisible walls crumble and open up my heart.
Her name was Sana. She was thirteen, studying in the seventh grade. She explained that her family was going to get on a train to Lucknow to visit her grandfather who was ill. They lived in Goa and was taking a month off from school to make this trip. Her father was from Lucknow and mother, somewhere in Karnataka. She said when she was young and her parents were travelling, they happened to pass by Goa and decided to set up base there.
I then found out that the man who I had seen crawling on the floor earlier was her father. He had contracted polio as a child and was paralysed from the waist, down. He was the sole breadwinner of the family and he earned his living as a tattoo artist.
A little later in the conversation, she told me that her sister sitting on her lap had Down syndrome. She also had a hole in her heart and had severe epileptic attacks, hence couldn’t be operated upon. My heart just broke hearing their story.
Sana told me that she was supposed to be in the eighth grade, but lost a year as she missed a lot of school when her sister was sick. She also introduced me to the rest of her siblings who slowly joined into the conversation. The girl who was ill, Mallika, really liked to call herself Mallika didi (older sister). She had the sweetest smile. The family told us that she very intelligent even though she couldn’t communicate much.
In a short while, we were all exchanging jokes and riddles with each other. Among all the assumptions I had made, one was that they couldn’t understand or speak english. They would comfortably explain, in English, certain Hindi words that I didn’t understand. The little boy was taking pictures of us on his mother’s mobile. These kids were so confident and sure of themselves.
As I looked into their eyes, I found all their faces were glowing and with so much life. There was a different energy around them. The glow, energy had already been there earlier, but I was seeing it just now because I had opened myself to see them.
When it was time to part, we exchanged numbers. I asked the mother to send me the little girl’s medical reports to forward to my doctor friends to see if there was anything we could do to help them. After a bit of hesitation, as I didn’t want to embarrass them, I gave Sana Eidi (a customary practise where elders give children money or gifts during Eid) to be distributed among all her siblings. I felt sad walking away from them. I had made a heart connection and I could see it in their eyes too. We agreed to keep in touch and parted ways.
The next morning, I received a message from her, thanking me for the gift and wishing us a great journey. Since then we have communicated a few times over the phone. I am not sure how things will pan out in the future, whether our paths will cross in the future or not. All I know is that when I met them, I was fully present with them.
If I had shut myself off based on all my assumptions, I would have missed the gift that life presented to me. I would have missed this beautiful experience with the girls and what they taught me. I walked away feeling richer, fuller, bigger than I was before I met them.
Coming back to assumptions, as human beings we are assuming machines. With this machine working round the clock, we are constantly forming assumptions of everything that we see or experience. It would be interesting to step back and observe our assumptions about people or situations.
What are your assumptions about people of colour, white people, slow drivers, fast drivers, women drivers, people who appear religious based on their attire, people who are old, young people, sick people, people who are have a lot of money, those who don’t, people who struggle with anger, depression, the high achievers, the drifters, people who are over weight, introverts. extroverts, homemakers, unemployed, homeless, failure, success?
I once read something along the same lines. I don’t remember the source, but here it is: ‘When two people interact, it’s not just a simple interaction between two people; each bring in a whole load of assumptions based on their fears and negative experiences from their past. For every voice that’s spoken there are five other voices in the head influencing it. ‘
This means that we do not experience our present just as it is. To a large extent it is colored by our past. Most of us, even as adults play these old tapes over and over again and come to broken conclusions about our present experiences.
If we just pause and observe life, people and situations just as they are, not coloured by our past or future, what we create for ourselves will truly be liberating because we will the see beauty and perfection of life as it already is !
Life & Relationship Coach (CPCC)
October 2, 2016