I was out in a beautiful forest park with the family on Easter Monday. It was fairly busy, so as we walked through the trees, we met a good few people – couples jogging, families with crying toddlers, people who didn’t fit into any neat category. And that’s when I got to thinking about how, with one glance, we can decide who somebody is, and whether they’re worth considering, or should just be overlooked.
I’d brought my purple walking stick, but found myself hiding it as much as I could. Sitting down on a wooden bench, waiting for our picnic, I actually put it behind my leg when people walked past. At one point, my daughter took it out and started pretending to be a sentry. She wasn’t ashamed of this part of me. I was.
Taking a short-cut up the hill on the way back, I found myself walking alone in front of groups of people sitting close to the car park. Either they would look over at me and quickly look away, or they would smile as if they felt they should. ‘That poor girl, so young to have to use a stick.’ Of course now I’m as much at fault as my observers – seeing one thing, and assuming many.
A presumptive snapshot of young parents dressed for the town in a forest park does not speak of their laudible decision to take their kids to the countryside for a change. Maybe they go all the time. It doesn’t tell the story of two men in their thirties, walking closely, talking happily together. And it doesn”t tell mine. I hope that this lesson will change how I look at people. Not to stare, but not to glance away either.