We have all done it before we actually meet someone in person, most especially if we have heard stories about them. We make a judgement on what they will be like, who they are, before we even meet them.
Today I met a woman.....I heard portions of her life story before I met her....she is 62 years old, been married and divorced 3 times, the first two time to batterers, she was a heavy smoker, even heavier drinker. Slowly dying now of emphysema and COPD, living in a small apartment, on the bare minimum social security pays. On that basis alone I had an impression of who she was before I ever met her.
I imagined this small pasty pudgy woman, with one of those deep harsh smokers voices. I knew she would be dragging her long oxygen tube wherever she went, possibly a walker and/or a motorized wheelchair in the house. I really thought she would still be smoking, most COPD suffers I have met don't seem to be able to quit until they are at stage 4 and really cannot get enough oxygen. I imagined someone rough around the edges....loud, poor grammar, uneducated, maybe a little tacky looking......my snobbery showing through...a snobbery that I knew was there, that we all secretly hide, but I had thought I had set to the side. Until I met her and realized what I had done.
It took me a while to find her apartment, it was hidden off a back alley, so, yes the apartment was not in the best part of town, not even the middle-class part of town...but what else can she afford on 600.00 a month? I rang the bell, and the door was answered by a small boy, very neatly dressed just finished with his half-day of kindergarten, he invited me in, told me Mawma would be out soon. He was watching the Robots dvd, I stood near the door, waiting for her to appear. The apartment was not spotlessly clean, but no clutter to speak of, and an abundance of lighthouse curios on display everywhere.....a lot of christian plagues hanging on the walls. And not even a whiff of cigarette smoke.
When she finally walked into the room, she ws so tiny, maybe 5 feet if that, and if she weighs over a hundred pounds I would be very surprised. And for someone who has smoked since she was seven years old...yes you read that right! Seven years old! Her complexion was lovely, wrinkled yes, but not really all that much for a woman of her age and illnesses. Very soft spoken, a slight southern accent, gentle kind brown eyes. Short auburn hair, a bit disheveled, but she is sick after all, she was dressed in an old soft sweatshirt that went well with her coloring, and a pair of freshly pressed blue jeans....the legs had creases!
She introduced me to her great-grandson....I could see the love and pride in her eyes, and his. So very well behaved, I could see that he idolized her. The love and affection between them was palpable. Even when he accidently turned the volume up louder on the TV she very kindly and most importantly, politely requested he turn it back down. He did.
I have met so many people that fit the stereotype of the unhealthy, fallen-through-cracks-poor, that I jumped to conclusions about her, about her lifestyle. I was so wrong....so very wrong.
She freely admits to leading a very wild youth, even a wild middle-age, from the stories she told me today, very rough and very wild......but you wouldn't guess it by looking at her, or hearing her.....oh there was one small sign...she had a very blurry blue butterfly tattoo on the portion of her hand between thumb and index finger....I really wanted to hear the story behind that, but I didn't ask.
She taught me a lesson that is so very important, maybe most important in my line of work, that I sometimes forget....we are all individuals with a story, sometimes a very sad story...but just because someone leads a hard life...does not mean they are a hard person.