Every one of us is said to be, like a snowflake, incomparable and magically, perfectly unique. The parade we saw this summer passing below our balcony was a dazzling reminder of this truth: hundreds of marchers, players, riders, movers, shakers and dancers were in the four-hour parade that wound through the city streets, and hundreds of thousands lined the route, and even the groups dressed in matching costumes or uniforms were groups of wonderfully individual characters.Our privileged hotel perch, though, highlighted the even greater beauty of the masses. The acute angle of the early sun gave sharp and shapely shadows to everyone in the crowd, and every single one of those shadows was the same color–grey. The shadows, like the people, were of an infinitely varied range in shape and movement and each attached only to him who cast it, but every shadow darkened the area near its maker in just the same way as everybody else’s. We may be unlike each other in nearly endless ways, but in some ways we are still all truly alike. It was lovely to see our differences and our commonalities literally on parade.
The same acts or the same words can have radically different effects, depending on their place and timing, and especially on motivation. I learned long ago that when anyone seemed to condescend or demean me in some way, I ought to take care before I assumed the worst. Before I assumed a meaning in the moment that might have no reality at all.
How does anyone learn such things? Nearly always, by making mistakes themselves. I could never begin to count the times when a thing I said lightly or jokingly was taken as a slight or a thing I did casually, without a thought, had entirely unwanted and unforeseen consequences not just for me but for others, too.
Yet I have not learned so well that I don’t continue to kick up dust with my clumsy mistakes and thoughtless remarks. My only hope is that the rest of the world can be far less foolish and thin-skinned than I, and that the day can come when I will focus my speech and deeds with such intent that they will build up rather than tear down, heal instead of harm, and encourage and support but not offend.
It is, in fact, my intent to improve with age, in what I say and do. And in giving others credit for trying, too, to do their best. Even if we all slip up from time to time. And we will.