Every year my friends and I participate in our school’s Relay for Life to benefit the American Cancer Society. The presentation before the Luminaria ceremony is always very moving, as photos of our classmates and our classmates’ loved ones who have passed and who have survived are flashed up on the screen to tear-jerking music. The tears were coming with each picture but particularly, every time I saw a face on the screen who had died young my eyes welled up, thinking how much life they could have had left if it wasn’t for this terrible disease. I was also struck by how many familiar faces from college’s parents had died or have been affected by cancer. Though I had not known many of these people personally, they were the people I see every day walking to class or waiting in line in the cafe. It’s incredible how much you may not know about a stranger, how many people are walking around with a burden on their shoulders and not letting it show.

With that being said, I was starting to think about how much we might not know about what another person has been through, even if they tell you, you might not ever know the extent that their life experiences has affected them, changed them, and made them the person they are. Just as CF has changed myself and my family, there are people who have had to deal with cancer, with loss, grief, and confusion. Yet, we might never know. So what does this mean for us? It means to never assume that someone’s anger or shyness is a fault of that person. Most emotions have a source, and it is our job to support a person no matter how much we are confused by their behavior. It also means to never assume that just because a person appears happy and put together, that they aren’t dealing with anything. Many people can adjust to their hardships and go on living. People might be going through things we don’t understand, and we never will until we’ve experienced them ourselves. It means to never assume that everyone’s life is just like yours, that everyone should think like you do. Of course, everyone has different life experiences and it is important to recognize that in order to live peacefully in life.

I know I can be guilty of wishing people would understand life the way I do. I’ll get frustrated when people don’t take care of their precious bodies, I’ll be confused as to why people don’t see the truly important things in life. I’ll wonder why people waste so much time worrying. But how can I expect someone to stand in my shoes if they’ve never lived in them? I’ve learned to take care of my body from many hospitalizations and seeing the repercussions of not doing so. I’ve learned to appreciate good health from having poor health. How can I expect someone to learn the lesson I did when I learned it the hard way? I’ve learned to appreciate the little things like the laughs with friends and moments with family. How can I expect someone to see it how I do when these things have become so important because they are what keep me going? I’ve learned to let my life fall as it may, not dwelling too much on small problems when I have bigger things to worry about. How can I expect others to see this when what may seem small to me, may actually feel very significant to them?

Each person reading this can probably think about things that have happened in their lives that have changed them: whether it was seeing a friend experience a hardship, losing someone they love, dealing with a crisis in their life, or having a positive eye-opening experience. Each person reading this can think of who in their life has helped to shape who they are: whether it is parents, siblings, friends, or other people who have walked into their life. Each person reading this can think of something they have learned: whether in the classroom, from a deep conversation, or from experiencing something that taught them a lesson. It is these things that we carry with us, that affect who we are. And everyone is different.

I love when my over 6 foot tall boyfriend picks me up, or gives me a piggy back because it brings my perspective from that of 5 feet tall, to a full foot higher. I can see the tops of people’s heads, I can see over the crowd, and all this without my calves burning from standing on my tippy toes! We all have different perspectives, and sometimes it can be exciting seeing life at someone else’s viewpoint.

At the end of the day, I know that the way I live my life is based off of my experiences. In the same way, I have to understand that the ways others live their lives are based off of their experiences, just like me. Everyone is at different stages of figuring out their lives, of experiencing tragedy, heartbreak, and having their will tested. Everyone develops their opinions and outlook based on what they have seen, or learned, or heard. No one has lived their life exactly the same. Thus, we must learn to be open to others, to let them lift us up to their eye-level, and see life through a new perspective.