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Uncovering a stranger's suffering

By Lara SansonPublished 3 years ago 14 min read

I woke up and got ready to do some walking around the city. Walking in the city is not my cup of tea but, it being a Sunday morning, the streets were pretty clear and there was little traffic.

I was so happy about my decision to start to exercise. I felt good about myself, empowered and pleasantly surprised that I had woken up so early without an alarm, on a Sunday!

I finally had a renewed sense of strength after I had been slightly depressed for a while.

At one point, after I had been walking for a while with a big smile on my face, I saw an old lady sitting on a bench, feeding some pigeons. This lady was fixedly looking at me and my instinct spoke loud and clear "She is about to make a comment on my weight". I thought that because I have had numerous encounters with old ladies that seem to be so selflessly concerned about my health, even though they don't know me at all, and they are ever so eloquent to express it. I was right, one more time, as she immediately yelled at me - as we were kind of far - "Hey! You need to stop eating!"

BOOM!!! She dropped the bomb. I was FURIOUS. One part of me was just so extremely angry "Where are people's manners? What the heck??" and remembered all the times this same event had happened in my life up to that point. But another part of me wanted to talk about what had just happened and address the situation with the lady.

So I started walking directly to her. Once I was close, I intently looked into her eyes and very peacefully said:

-And you need to stop telling people what they should or shouldn't do.

(Now, I am from Spain and there is a polite way to refer to old people when you say the word "you". You say "usted" instead of "tú". I used the polite form, of course. I didn't lose my temper at any moment)

Old lady: No, honey, but you can't be that fat. It's not good for you.

Me: Do you think that I am not aware of that? I don't think you are considering how you can affect another person with your words. You can really hurt people.

Old Lady: You are right. I shouldn't have said anything.

Me: I know that you mean well, but it is such an obvious fact expressed in such a disrespectful way that you are neither providing any new information nor are you helping me in any way.

Old Lady: But I bet you eat a lot, don't you?

Me (I had to take a deep breath): Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I have been on a diet since I was 9, though, and I only ate vegetables and lots of fish, and I never reached my goal weight...and I was always miserable.

Old Lady: Well, then you diet again!

Me: I will not diet. Have you consider I might be happy like this?

Old Lady: No, it isn't good for you.

Me: My medical analysis show that all my levels are correct, much better than many people who are thinner than me. I am not saying I should be fat, but I am perfectly healthy.

Old Lady: But it's not good for your knees. My son lost a lot of weight by doing a lot of walking.

Me: That's great. Exercise is great. I was actually doing just that before you yelled at me minutes ago.

Old Lady: Oh, that's good!

(I know that, by now, many of you might be thinking that it is absurd to maintain a conversation like this. At one point I thought that it was absurd as well, but I wanted to keep talking to her, to reach a deeper level)

Me: You know? Something much more important than dieting or exercising is actually to look deep inside you, into your emotions. Because our emotions drive our lives.

Old Lady: Sure thing! Emotions are so important. One person can be unsatisfied, for example.

Me: Definitely. And if I am unsatisfied with my life I might overeat, or become an alcoholic, or do many other things... to fill my emptiness, for example.

Old Lady: Yes. My daughter's husband left with someone else. He threw away 21 years of marriage.

Me: I am sorry to hear that.

(At that very moment a group of young people passed by. They looked like they were just returning home after a Saturday night’s out, and they were still drunk. Some of the girls were wearing really short skirts.)

Old Lady (looking at them sternly): Can you believe someone can be dressed like that? I don't like what we are becoming as a society. When I was young I remained a virgin until my marriage....I didn't even know what a clitoris was until after I had my 3rd son...and I have 4 children!

(We both started laughing...I was starting to like this woman)

The conversation was shifting and she was telling me about her sons and daughters, their misfortunes, the things she didn't like about modern life, how making lots of money corrupted her other son, who cheated on his wife and was about to leave her too, but she forgave him… She had some serious limiting beliefs about money and about lots of other areas of life. I didn't argue with her about that...I would still be there with her right now if I had gone down that path.

She was worried. She worried about her family and she worried about me, even though I was a complete stranger. She might have been bored as well. Maybe she felt alone.

Old Lady: You know? I shouldn't have told you that. I just see you have a really pretty face, you are so nice and so young...It's a shame you are so fat!

What about the boys? -she had a pity-like look on her face, as she was sure I couldn't find a boyfriend or anyone who truly loved me, for that matter- Do they pay attention to you?

Me: My boyfriend had a job in his hometown. That job didn’t pay much, but it was a job. When I had to move to this city after I got a nice job offer here, I told him.

By this point she was about to tell me she was sorry that we couldn't be together when I continued:

Me: And he decided to quit everything and come with me! I can safely say we are in love and we both feel is a great thing to be able to spend time together.

Old Lady (surprised): Oh!

Me: Actually, he believes in me and wants me to be happy...he is a bigger support to me than I am for myself, most of the time. I am working on loving myself more.

Old Lady: You are a very nice person.

Me: You don't have to suffer for me. What's your name?

Old Lady: Ester (Spanish spelling for Esther, as I am sure you already guessed)

Me: That's a lovely name. Nice to meet you Ester. I'm Lara.

Esther: What a pretty name.

Lara: Thanks. Esther, you know? Lots of people have called me fat in my life.

Esther: I bet.

Me: You know what I thought when you yelled at me earlier? I thought "Rise above, Lara...don't pay attention to the old lady"

Esther: You should have done that.

Me: But I didn't want to do that...I wanted to talk to you. Lots of people would have told me that it is not worth anyone's time talking to people like you.

Esther: And they would have been right.

Me: But I wanted to talk to you and let you know how that made me feel. You know, if you had told me that 2 years ago I would have probably gone home and start crying first. Then I would have become extremely angry.

Esther (shocked): You would?

It was clear to me by then that she must feel unheard in her life, since she couldn't believe that her nasty words towards me would have such a big impact. And she had been actively telling me that earlier in our conversation too, like when she said "sure, you shouldn't have listened to me".

Her screaming mean comments to strangers could have many explanations. She could simply be an unstable woman; she could be plain mean; she could be in a lot of pain herself; she could feel invisible, unheard, unimportant; she could be a combination of many of those things, or all of the above, and more.

I chose to believe she wasn’t simply a mean person. And I realized that one thing was certain. She was willing to be inappropriate in her comments in a desperate attempt to discover whether or not her words mattered to anyone.

Esther: You are such a nice person. You don't pay attention to what I told you. I shouldn't have. You know? I wouldn't care if you were three times as big as you are now...I just see you are so young and it makes me sad.

(She was apologizing in her own way, despite her contradictions)

Me: You know? I am 28. I shouldn't lecture you.

Esther: I am 82, same age backwards.

Me: You see? I wanted to tell you this not to lecture you, but to let you know how much you can hurt people by commenting about their bodies, without even knowing whether they have hormonal problems, emotional problems, depression, know nothing about them! I know you mean well, but that is never going to help them in the way you think you are helping. In fact, 99% of the time, not to say 100% of the time, it will have the complete opposite effect.

You know? I lost 3 kilos in 2 weeks by diving into my emotions alone, instead of stressing about diets and exercise. There are so many more things going on inside of us than what's apparent to the eye.

Esther: You have lost 3 kilos?

Me: That's why I am telling don't know if the person is already doing some work on themselves and when you throw a comment like that, you make them feel awful and decide that "what's the point?". That has happened to me before! Or maybe you just irritate them so much that they go home with a devastating feeling. No one should have to put up with nasty comments from random strangers for no good reason.

Me: I will continue to lose weight my way...without focusing on diets and exercise alone.

Esther: I hope you make it.

Me: No. I WILL make it!

(She smiled.)

Esther: You know? I am embarrassed that I told you that. If I tell my kids what just happened with you....they would give me such a hard time! So I won't tell them.

Me: No! Tell them...tell them what happened...Tell them that, in the end, we spoke of many things and we shared a nice half an hour.

Esther: I apologize to you, really.

Me: I know you mean well but I just want to ask one thing of you... Next time you are about to yell a mean comment out to somebody, think about how it can make them feel. You really can hurt so much with your words.

Esther: You are a really nice person. I hope you get the job (I had previously told her about my upcoming job interview for a tenure in that city’s symphony orchestra)

Me: You know, Esther? If I get the job I will walk by this place more often, so that I can see you and we can talk some more.

Esther: You take care and good luck. It was really nice to meet you, Lara.

Me: Take care, Esther! It was nice to meet you too.

This is all I can remember from the conversation. It was really harsh. I don't know if this is frequent in other countries but here in Spain, lots of old retired women and men sit in the squares or parks, or they walk around...and they throw comments like that to you.

I have received many comments regarding my weight throughout my live, and I always left feeling beat up, depleted, completely embarrassed, and really angry with them, angry with me, for not standing up for myself.

I told Esther that I wanted to talk to her because I wanted to let her know a few things about her action’s impact in other people’s lives that she might have never even thought about; and because I believe people can change, no matter how old they are. Maybe Esther had forgotten our conversation by the following day, or perhaps she will remember it for the rest of her life...who knows?

It’s a beautiful thought picturing that she became a bit more aware of her word choices towards other people and towards herself; or to imagine her sharing this story with her Friends, thus helping to bring some awareness to this issue. Maybe you are reading this very story right now yourself, Esther! If that’s the case I want to tell you that I still have some extra weight I haven’t been able to lose… yet… and oh! I didn’t get that job at the symphony, but I moved to Paris for a while, and then I embarked a cruise ship and worked at sea for a few years.

But those are stories I will share with you some other time.

Coming back to the end of today's story, I feel like it was my way of finally standing up for myself, for all those times I failed myself by letting people off the hook. During all those times I was, indirectly, sending myself the message "They are right. You are fat, it is normal that people comment on it...You deserve that!"...which is just so heartbreaking. I didn't want to be my worst enemy anymore.

I never wanted to fight with this woman. I just wasn't about to leave feeling like I didn't do anything to stop this...bullying, really!

I am proud to say I found a graceful way to honor myself, honor my emotions by verbalizing them in a way that also allowed another person to, at the very least, have a powerful, brave and empowering half an hour conversation.

I don't know how I would react if this happened again, but I liked my interaction with Esther. She opened up to me, I opened up to her. I saw a side of her that I didn't get to see at the beginning. I understood a bit more where she and her comment came from. I learnt more about the deceitful connections between appearances and deeper issues. But, most importantly for me at that time, I stood up and fought for myself, with respect and love.

This is dedicated to all the little Laras that ever felt bad or verbally abused!

You can always chose love; love for yourself, love for the people around you, love for the world. You can always chose to be loving. And, if you chose to be nasty, which is also your right as a human being…just know that, at some point, there might come a loving person that will spot your anger, and gently help you find the way back to your center, back to your heart.

Observe. Listen. Open up. Trust. Love and be loved.

I love you.


About the Creator

Lara Sanson

Violinist.Amateur Writer.Haiku lover.Cat person.Alice in Wonderland.Surrealism.A very shiny cube made with extraterrestrial materials.Anxious.Can't summarize.Mother tongue:Spanish.Hugs trees.Cries when holding a sting ray.Wanderlust.

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