There’s an old saying that you can never understand a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins. Presumably, once you do, you will feel the pinch around the toes, the chafing of the loose heel, the discomfort of a seam that digs into a tender part of the foot. THEN you will understand why he is acting cranky, or not keeping up with the rest of the hunters.
What if I’ve never walked a mile in that man’s moccasins? How then am I to understand him?Animals, such as a faithful dog, can connect with others empathically and quickly come to give a consoling lick or nudge. Sometimes we, too, just feel another person’s pain and empathize.
And sometimes we don’t feel it naturally, and we don’t understand what someone else is going through. We need the expansive mind when the heart fails us. Here’s where moccasin imagination steps in. Over Christmas I had to exercise some moccasin imagination myself. The incident happened around the quilt our family had made for SuSu’s widower, Bob.
My dad arrived first to the island, bringing with him the family-made quilt that had just been completed in California for my newly bereaved father-in-love, Bob. We had let Bob see us working on the quilt squares at Thanksgiving, so he would have something to look forward to. Now the finished quilt was even more beautiful than I imagined it would be. That’s where I left you in my last letter. When my dad handed it to me to wrap up, he said, “Bob is just going to burst into tears when he sees this quilt!” I agreed.
Christmas morning came, with Bob and the whole family gathered at our house to celebrate. We opened all the other presents under the tree, saving the quilt for last. Now the package was finally in his lap and open, and he asked, “What’s this?” as if he didn’t have a clue.
And as he took the quilt out of the box, he still seemed not to recognize what he was holding. We spread it out and showed him every square, and he simply acted befuddled. This is not an 87 year old suffering from alzheimer’s. Bob is sharp as the proverbial tack. But he didn’t say thanks or show any emotion about receiving it.
Why didn’t he seem to care about the gift we had all poured so much love into for him?!? Where were the tears of thankfulness my dad and I were expecting? Did Bob really not care about this love-filled quilt? Whao! This was going to take some moccasin imagination for me to process!
I reflected that Bob and I have very different personality types to begin with. Where Bob is taciturn, I am effusive. Our responses to the same good meal might be: “Oh, it was fine – took ‘em long enough serve it.” from him and “Wow! That was delicious! No WONDER they spent a week making it!” from me.
Then I remembered that Bob is never the one to lead the conversation at the dinner table. In contrast, I have been known to DANCE on a tabletop! Whereas I’m comfortable surrounding myself with hundreds of people on occasion, Bob tends to be something of a recluse unless he really pushes himself to come out of his shell and spend time with others. I began realizing what a shy man Bob is under his normally gruff exterior.
For me to imagine what it was like to be Bob wasn’t just a matter of stepping into a different size of moccasin. It was like me having to step out of my sparkly high-heels to walk in his serviceable brown walking shoes. My imagination muscles got a real workout!
From this new perspective, I re-ran my mental film of Bob opening the quilt. It came to me that for Bob, being in the spotlight of the whole family watching him unwrap that last big box, was probably intensely uncomfortable. It was almost as if there was a drumroll in the background, building up to the great opening. Bob probably couldn’t get through the ordeal soon enough and slip into the background again.
Moccasin imagination – it saved me from being crushed by the disappointment of Bob’s initially flat reaction to our Christmas gift.
When I spoke to him over the phone the other day, I asked him if the quilt was working for him. He said it fit the bed perfectly. I told him that if he ever was feeling lonely, he could just look at the squares on the quilt and think of all the people who loved him. He said, “Yes, I’ll do that. Thank you.” In his own quiet way, he DID appreciate the quilt.
(Bob, I know you don’t read these letters, but if you do this time, forgive me for putting you in the spotlight again. Love you!)