empathy

To the people who don’t know they changed my life

Artwork by Janya Vyguzov

Artwork by Janya Vyguzov

“Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life.” ― Marcus Aurelius

As you wander through the many paths of life, get to know strangers and face new circumstances, you change slowly and steadily until you find yourself in a few years a lot different than the person you once were. If you notice enough and pay attention to things, places and people, you can realize what influences mark and shape your life.

Thankfully, I have made a point of doing so and instead of just hearing and seeing what happens around me, I listen and look for the things that are molding me. This knowledge is important to help me adapt and know what I want to change in me.

As I compare myself to who I was and realize the changes that have taken place in me, I realize it has been mostly because of the ones who don’t know they changed my life, rather than the ones I keep reminding of their contributions. Maybe it’s my fault that I don’t acknowledge some of the former ones but some have only crossed paths with me in a single situation, which left an everlasting impact on me. To these persons I write this letter because they are part of the person I am now.

1. My fourth grade friend: Almost a decade has passed and her words still echo in my mind, “You know you shouldn’t just repeat what people say, we’re not talking parrots .We should think before we speak and think before declaring something as ‘our own’ opinion or else how can we have our own personality.”

Right now I don’t know how those words came out of an eight or nine year old but I know they’ve stuck with me ever since and that this friend changed me into a person who speaks through her mind not her tongue without she knowing.

2. Teachers: The amount of respect I have for this profession is incredible. Each and every teacher I ever encountered taught me something, but two teachers in particular are often on my mind. It’s probably because one has taught me that work would always pay off and that I should always have hope and self-confidence because that’s what will save you in bad times. The other taught me that one should always aspire to inspire and should always go for things that ignites their passion, because when something makes your heart feel like dancing, you know you’re living your life the right way.

3. Unrequited love: Some people may still have hard time believing that such love can be more than painful but it can be. It changes hearts. It changes minds. At some times I may have been changed into someone furious at love and how it can control us. Other times, I may have been changed into someone blaming love for how sweet and ruthless it can be. Falling in love without receiving any in return showed my bravery, something in this merciless love grew my mercy.

4. The friend and the lover who didn’t stay when times were bad: Those have changed me into someone who fears getting attached, who puts limits to every relationship because she’s haunted with an idea that everyone can leave .They changed me into a cautious person but I’m afraid a person who’s too cautious to live sometimes.

5 .The 8o-year-old woman I saw in the bus: After a very exhausting day, I was about to leave the bus when that woman full of wrinkles on her face and hands looked up to me with the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen offering me her chair. I grinned widely, thanked her as I got off the bus. Realizing that she probably needed that chair way more than I did, I asked myself how she even offered it. I guess it was exactly then that I realized it doesn’t matter at all if you grow old as long as your courtesy and kind heart grows with you.

I now look for opportunities to perform small acts – like the one this beautiful lady did for me – because it turns out that these little favors aren’t small at all.

6. Artists: As cliché as that may sound, can you guys imagine what our lives could have been without someone to help opening our eyes to things we usually don’t see: the authors that make you want to hug their books, the painters who take you to their world or that musician that soothes your pain. If those don’t change who you are, even if just a little, it’s a real pity.

7. My Syrian childhood friend: In letters and papers from prison, Dietrich Bonheoffer said, “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

If someone is laughing or acting fine that doesn’t mean that they’re actually fine. Once you get rid of your shallow view of things and people, you know if they’re fine or not; you know the truth.

Maybe because I knew what this friend has seen of war and atrocity, I started to realize she’s probably not as fine as she seems. She changed me without knowing into someone who seeks the truth by reading between the lines and analyzing what a voice tone truly implies because someone’s face may be too calm sometimes, you don’t realize there’s a war inside the same person’s heart.

8. Taxi drivers: Usually no one likes a talkative taxi driver – I am not a fan of them either – but there was this driver particularly that made me think twice about that talking issue.

A few months ago I was thinking about how I want to leave a mark behind in this world. I was thinking about this the cab when the driver started telling me all the science and culture themes he read about and as we were passing through downtown. He told me a fact about almost every old building we saw or the statues we drove by.

I can’t deny it was the most amusing ride I have ever been on, like a small tour in my own country. I got out of the taxi, thanking the driver for the safe drive, but also thanking god for sending me that new message.

That man has left a mark in my life in the best possible way. Maybe we don’t have to know someone’s name or story to remember that that person existed. Maybe helping the ones in your neighborhood, helping that friend of yours with their job or helping your kid’s graduate is evidence enough. Maybe there’s greatness of no less importance than well-known innovations in the very ordinary kind things we do.

I’m glad that these people changed my life in a way though they may never know. I hope that maybe I too have changed someone’s life in a good way, although I may never realize it. I hope I may keep noticing because hopefully as I observe and change, someone would change with me.

Mariem Sherif is an Egyptian medical student who believes that words can heal a wound, that in each and every one of us there is something special and that in details lies another great different life for those who notice.