I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. Even as a little girl in the back of my mom’s banana-colored Cutlass Supreme, I remember the 30-second daydreams at every red light.
When our car came to a halt, along with countless other cars at the four corners at every intersection with a traffic light, I glanced around at the other cars—not because I am fascinated with automobiles, but because I am fascinated with people.
What did that woman with curly blonde hair, sunglasses, and a cigarette think about at night when she went to bed? Did she have children at home, or was she living the single life? Did she lie on her couch and eat bon bons and watch soap operas all day long while wearing pink mumus? Did she work in a factory, or did she teach elementary school?
And what about the old man in the big blue pick-up truck? Did he have any grandchildren? Did they come visit him, or after his morning paper and coffee and chat with his former farmer friends at the café, did he return home to an empty, quiet house and sip sweet tea on the porch with his basset hound? Was he cold-hearted, and as a result, had no contact with his family? Or was he loving and affectionate, giving them gifts and sharing his war stories and teaching them how to fish?
It might have been my creative side preparing itself to write in the future. It might have been my tendency to stick my nose in other people’s business rearing its unattractive head. It might have been my big fat heart protruding itself through the pane glass of the car window, wondering and wandering at the vast amount of life at every street corner every day.
Sitting on our front porch, my husband and I often watch the sunset together with our daughter in the evening. This spring, the insects reappeared and began buzzing and hovering and clouding the horizon. Being the anti-bug advocate in the family, I reached for the repellant and fly swatter. Being the wildlife biologist in the family, my husband sat and gazed at the swarm of gnats illuminated by the sunlight.
Sunset view from our front porch, June 2013
“There’s a lot of life right there. A lot of life.”
I may not be able to muster up a similar sense of wonder regarding the flies on our porch, but I still find myself fascinated by the human lives around me today. Only it’s amplified now. After having my daughter, I don’t just gaze around in curiosity. I feel a crushing awareness in my heart that each of the people surrounding me, everywhere I go, have souls. They all have eternity ahead of them, either with or without Christ. They are all who they are today because of who the people in their lives were way back when.
This unavoidable awareness makes me less likely to judge people at red lights, people on the sidewalk, people at the health office, or people in Wal-Mart. They all have lives. Complicated, painful, tumultuous lives. They all have multiple relationships, and their choices affect other people every day. They might be in excellent health, or they might be a few days from taking their last breaths. They might be in touch with their families and feel loved and appreciated. Or they might be alone in the world with no one to call and no one to hold. They might be using drugs, or they might be sober. They might have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and running water to call home. Or they might sleep under the bridge near Polk Bayou. They might have been abused and mistreated their whole lives, or they might have the simplest, most pain-free lives imaginable.
My precious baby, June 2013. Photo by Jessie Covington.
Regardless, all the people I encounter were once just tiny babies. They were innocent, small, helpless, dependent babies. They all made adorable facial expressions, learned to clap for the first time, cried for their mamas when they were tired and cranky, and laughed at the amazing new world around them. Just like my little girl, they were bursting with hope, promise, and potential.
And like all babies, they grew up. Some of them might have been as lucky as my little girl, having two parents living in the same house who love each other and love her unconditionally. But I know that some of them weren’t as lucky. Some of them cried themselves to sleep too many times. Some of them weren’t held and carried but were hit and ignored or abandoned. When I look into the eyes of people I meet and see nothing but pain, emptiness, or rage, I know that something must have gone terribly wrong at some point. Maybe they were hurt by others. Maybe they’ve hurt others, too.
I will never know the stories of all the grown-up babies I encounter. But when I see them, I remind myself that just as God loves me as His child, and sees me as His precious creation even though I have repeatedly screwed up, He sees all the grown-up babies as His children. Some of them know Him as their Daddy. Some of them don’t. But He loves them all anyway.
And that’s what He’s asked me to do. Just love His babies.