A few weeks back I had to go to the clinic to have an MRI on my back. I came early per my standard operating procedure. It was a Friday and the Radiology Department was next to the Lab which was having an exceptionally busy morning.
That meant there were few isolated seats available. As in none. Everyone sat with a chair or open space one either side of them. I was going to have to choose a spot to sit that would hone in one someone’s bubble.
I chose a heavy woman. I sat next to her and instead of reading my book, we began to talk. The woman was about 40o lbs, had intense back pain and other serious health issues. Insurance was giving her trouble with the various procedures she needed to have done. It was a catch 22 for her. They couldn’t do surgery on her back until she lost weight, but she couldn’t lose weight because of her various health issues. She said she used to try to swim at the local YMCA but people would make rude comments to her. Out loud. In her presence.
I have to admit if people insulted me every time I was trying to work out . . . I would quit too. Let’s face it, when one is overweight, no matter how much, a swimming suit is never going to be flattering. For her to have gone to do the only exercise she could and then have to stop because of the abuse she suffered? Well, it made me sad. I was ashamed that these were fellow human beings and I expect none of them were Sports Illustrated Swim models either. I wish she had the courage to complain to the staff at the YMCA. Bullying in any form should never be tolerated, even there. Especially there.
I told her that I was glad I came to sit by her, that I had learned a lot and enjoyed her company. She went to get her blood work done and I was called in for my appointment and I didn’t get to see her again. I hope that maybe, somehow, a friendly, affirming, conversation, validated her worth as a human being created in the image of God.
When I hear people make fun of someone who is overweight it grieves me. Partly because of my own weight struggle. Partly because I think we overlook the fact that seeing a person at one static moment in time, does not inform us of their journey or challenges. This woman could have lost 50 pounds before I met her and I would have still seen her as overweight. She was and she knew it. But her weight does not diminish her value in the eyes of God. Nor should it in mine.
So why do I share this story? Because over the next month many of us will be interacting more and more with strangers as we shop, attend concerts or parties and go about our business. Maybe we can set aside the lenses we often use to judge someone and instead see the heart of the person underneath. Someone who is desperate to be seen, treated with respect and honor and even to be heard.
I listened to this woman’s pain. Her loneliness. Her battles on every side. When someone weighs 400 lbs, losing weight is harder than ever. A loss of a pound, even in a week, which would be considered stellar by most, would be like nothing for her in the balance of all she had yet to lose and I still wouldn’t have known. I’ve been heavier than I am now and I’ve been thinner. I would prefer thinner. The funny thing is those insults given by strangers or even worse, by people close to us, wound deeply.
It is hard to give myself the same courtesy I gave that woman because I’ve suffered similar insults. Yes, there is a disparity in the amount of weight we have to lose, but the struggle and the emotions are the same. Frustration. Exhaustion. Defeat. Despair.
So when you go to the YMCA and see someone working out – be the person who says a good word and encourages them. Make eye contact or smile. And let us strive to be more kind. We all struggle with something after all. How would you want to be treated?