Misconceptions

misconception1My daughter Talee had severe panic attacks in fourth grade and couldn’t go to school for weeks. One thing I worried about (among many others), was that I didn’t want anxiety to define her. There was so much more to her than that. I didn’t want her to crumble under the label of panic.

I was concerned that other people would have misconceptions of my little girl. I worried some kids might tease her, or not want to play with her because she was different. I imagined parents thinking, “What’s wrong with that girl? Why don’t her parents force her to go to school?” And I didn’t think Talee’s teacher would understand why Talee couldn’t simply walk into the classroom. They had no idea how great our struggles were.

It’s human nature to size someone up during a first impression. To think the worst, based on outward appearances. To discriminate, without knowing the facts. Or to judge a person without even meeting him, like I did once.

It was when we were about to purchase our business. My husband said he had something to warn me about.

“I think everything’s fine, Honey. It’s just that a guy, a homeless guy, lives in the storage room.”

“What?” I wondered if I heard him right. “Does he have to stay?”

“Yeah. He’s lived there for fifteen years, he kind of comes with the place. He cleans, so we don’t need to hire a janitor. His name’s Charlie.”

“Is he okay, I mean, is he normal?”

“He’s fine,” my husband said. “I’ve talked to him, and he’s nice. He’s maybe early to mid 70s. The previous owner said he works hard.”

I don’t like to admit this. But I had a picture of what I thought this homeless man would look like. Dirty and disheveled. Unshaven, with scraggly, ratty hair. And an odor emanating from him of alcohol and cigarettes.

The first time I visited the store, Charlie wasn’t there. I was curious to see where he slept. My husband unlocked the door to the back room. I peeked inside. It took my eyes a minute to adjust to the dim light. Spare parts, tools, and mops littered the room. I felt invasive, like I was sneaking into someone’s personal space. I was.

My husband pointed to a tiny area. “That’s where he sleeps. He puts a bunch of blankets and a sleeping bag down. I’m not sure if he has a pillow.”

I stared at the space, which was no larger than 3’x6.’ It was sandwiched between the hot water heater and a wall of dusty shelves. Charlie slept on the cold, hard, cement floor. At the foot of the makeshift bed, there was a wood desk, chair, and a small TV. A mirror hung next to the breaker box.  A comb and razor were on one shelf, and books lined up, tallest to shortest, on another.  Many of them were self help books, on positive thinking and power of the mind.

I met Charlie a week later. I was shocked. His healthy, rosy face was clean shaven. It looked like he just got back from the barber, with his gray hair styled short and neat. A striped buttoned down shirt was tucked into his navy slacks. His voice was gentle and kind. He told me I have a beautiful smile.

So much for stereotypes. I felt ashamed that I judged him. In a way, it paralleled my situation with Talee. I didn’t want people to think negatively of us, because they didn’t understand what we were going through. But I did the exact same thing to Charlie. I labeled him, and figured he’d fit into my narrow perception of a homeless person. He didn’t.

This man could’ve been anyone’s dad or grandpa. Charlie had a life, and he was quite social. He took the bus all over town, to the book store and restaurants. He met friends for coffee and doughnuts.

Charlie had family about half an hour away, and he was welcome to stay there. He chose not to, as he wanted his independence. He was close to our customers, they were his friends. For Charlie, our business was the equivalent of a friendly neighborhood.

As the months went by, I never told Charlie that he was teaching me an invaluable lesson. Not to judge someone based on what they look like or how they live.

Common misconceptions are just that. MISconceptions.

Charlie had a productive life prior to becoming homeless. He encountered difficulties that led him to his situation. The challenges he faced didn’t lessen the fact that he was a wonderful human being who contributed much to society.

I’m thankful Charlie lived in our storage room. Because of him, I’m more compassionate and aware of other’s hardships. I’m hopeful that many people will gain this insight, and view children like Talee and those with mental illnesses or other challenges, with openness and caring.

My only regret about Charlie is that I wish I would’ve known him longer. About six months after working for us, he caught pneumonia. He went to live with his son. Soon after, Charlie passed away.

I’ll always remember the priceless lessons that Charlie unknowingly gave me.

And that he said I had a beautiful smile.

***

Image courtesy of: http://www.mollaeilaw.com/blog/5-misconceptions-about-law

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Misconceptions

  1. This is a beautiful post and I can kind of relate. I kind of feel guilty to admit this, but when I was younger, I kind of felt uncomfortable around what my mom and I referred to as “slow learners” (kids that others rudely called retarded). Anyways, while anxiety is not the same as being “mentally slow”, it does make me feel bad that I made assumptions about those who were put in different classes because of their issues, especially since so many people have made misconceptions about me and my anxiety.

    I know I’ve said this before, but I think it’s amazing how supportive you are of your daughter. I know how hard it is to struggle with anxiety and wonder what others think of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your comment! I think most of us can admit we’ve felt guilty at one time or another for being uncomfortable with someone who is ‘different.’ I think it’s human nature. But I’m trying to be more aware of it, and not be quick to judge. Thanks again, and for your kind words!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, Jenny! Unfounded prejudice is indeed harmful. Yet we need to distinguish between “judging” and “unfounded prejudice”. In actuality, “judging/measuring” to protect ourselves is necessary e.g. we won’t want to let a drunk person drive us home etc. It is unfounded and un-required prejudice (like what you rightly point out in your experience) that we need to deal with. Too many people are using the word “judge” as a misnomer, such that in non judgement of highly anti-social behaviour such as extreme selfishness etc becomes more tolerable culturally.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the comment. Yes, you’re right, I didn’t think of that. But unfounded prejudice is closer to what I describe. We do have to judge, to steer clear of situations we don’t want to be in, or people we really don’t want to associate with. Thanks for your insight, I appreciate it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Today, you brought tears to my eyes. Your story about your fears for your daughter and your relationship with Charlie touched my heart. I, too, struggle to remain mindful of the times when I am leaping to conclusions or passing quick judgments. Being aware of and staying in touch with my prejudices helps me to make choices that are consistent with my values. Your story is an incredibly powerful reminder or why it is so important for me to keep working on my own awareness. I honestly cannot thank you enough for sharing this beautiful post. I’m also incredibly impressed and humbled by the openness, courage, and compassion that you and your husband displayed when you bought a business that housed a homeless man. I can’t help but wonder if that would’ve been a deal breaker for me. Wow!

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  4. This is so beautiful Jenny! You were so blessed to have Charlie in your life. We all make those sterotypical judgements. There’s a homeless guy I see every day on the street. Once I stopped and talked to him and when I gave him money our hands touched. I think he was surprised I let that happen. He looked directly into my eyes as I put the money in his hand and he said thank you God bless. He stands near a stop and shop and I asked the cashier if she knew anything about him. She referred to him as crazy etc. I was shocked how him being a human being didn’t matter. Another day I gave him an encouraging card. I still see him on the street everyday 😳 I wrote in the card that he mattered and it was never too late to turn his life around. I wonder if that card is in his duffel bag that he carries. Thanks for sharing a story of humanity and I hope your daughter’s spirit shines through and transcends her anxiety.💖

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your beautiful comment Traci. I love how you talked to the homeless man, gave him your time, and compassion. I’ll bet he carries your card around in his bag. It’s amazing to me how each person, homeless or not, has a story of where they came from, who they are. And especially with homeless people, others don’t know anything about that person. They just see the outside, the physical appearance, and make judgements from that. But there are very good people, like you, who know that every person matters. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautiful, heart-warming post. There are a lot of Charlies out there that we ignore out of fear or prejudice. A long time ago, I decided to substitute the word “judging” for “observing.” A year ago, a young man was panhandling outside a restaurant. I gave him $5. He asked how I was, and I answered truthfully….”not doing well right now.” He gave me a hug and a blessing. A few weeks later, I saw him again. This time, I invited him for lunch at the restaurant, and he accepted. I found out that he was discouraged in LA and was planning on going back home to Nebraska. I never saw him again. We have many homeless in our neighborhood. Most are harmless, but we do have one or two at times who obviously need medical help as they yell and threaten people. It was extremely unfortunate when the powers that be decided to close so many places where the homeless could go and get treatment. Some may even be veterans,and it is a disgrace that we don’t take better care of them after they return from service to our country.
    As for your little girl, I don’t know that much about her yet as I just started reading your blog, but I send blessings to her and to you for the challenges you both face.

    Liked by 1 person

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