September 4, 2009

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

The crosses we all bear must become the crosses we share

Patti LambMonths ago, I reunited with former schoolmates I hadn’t seen for years.

We met in Indianapolis and carpooled to St. Louis to attend the wedding shower of our mutual friend.

Between careers, dating, marriage and children, I’m sorry to admit that the frequency of our correspondence has waned. The past few years have pretty much been limited to Christmas cards.

These are successful women whom I truly respected and admired. So I started the trip nervously, foolishly brooding over making a good impression.

The reunion was wonderful. After the nervousness of keeping up appearances wore off, we were old friends back in the groove, laughing about inside jokes and recalling fond memories.

One friend had just returned from Italy with her family. This friend came from money, although she was never one to flaunt. I glanced down at her fine Italian leather boots and asked if they were a souvenir from her latest travels. Because we’ve always teased her about her vast shoe collection, I asked if she bought a pair in every color.

She sighed.

“I’ve learned that there are some things money can’t buy,” she said quite somberly. She went on to tell us that her mom is sick and has precious little time left. Between trying new medicines and experimental medical treatments, her mom was exhausted and frail.

I assumed my friend’s trip to Italy entailed shopping and fine dining. Instead, I learned the purpose of the trip was for experimental medical procedures for her mother. I had no idea of the cross that my friend carried.

Our conversation turned to another woman in the car. When I last spoke with her, she was on her way to becoming chief executive officer of a large and flourishing company. Given her workaholic nature, we were surprised when she told us that she recently extended her maternity leave from six to eight weeks. She has always been passionate about her career.

“My focus has shifted,” she said. “My son has special needs, and I’m only working three days a week, which is becoming too much. The other days are spent doing various therapies.”

I had no idea of the cross that my friend carried.

The third woman with whom we traveled discussed some marital problems she had been encountering. I never expected to hear this from her. Her latest Christmas card conveyed nothing but contentment. And the accompanying picture was straight out of a catalog.

I had no idea of the cross that my friend carried.

I once heard a story to this effect: A group of people were instructed to go into a room, put their crosses in the center of that room and pick out someone else’s cross from the pile to carry. Upon trading, they were miserable. They all ended up asking for their own crosses back.

As wealthy, beautiful or successful as those around us appear, they are also human and have their crosses.

We have no idea of the crosses that others carry. Sometimes the crosses we can’t see are the most difficult to bear. Enigmas like anxiety, depression and resentment consume others without our knowledge.

When people seem to have it all, I think we need to remember that they also have their crosses to bear, whether visible or not.

I hope we can give them the benefit of the doubt and proceed accordingly—with compassion.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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