Last week I got a portable oxygen tank that allows me to walk much farther than I could otherwise. When I breathe in, it gives me an extra little puff of oxygen, which makes me sound a bit like a cyborg, but you get used to it. Before that I could only walk as far as my lungs would allow on any given day - sometimes just around the block, sometimes a big farther.
On Wednesday I took her with me to the grocery store. (I know, she needs a name.) I'm reminded of the first time that I took my son out for a stroll after he was born. It was like stepping over the threshold of our apartment into a new identity. As if there were a huge neon sign floating above me with an arrow pointing down that said, MOTHER. It was terrifying.
This wasn't quite so dramatic. I am, after all, twenty-four years older. Still, it was odd. I knocked a few boxes down in my quest for oversize Ziplocs in which to brine my turkey, and some random woman came over to pick them up. "That's really OK," I started to say. "You don't have to..." Then I just stopped and let her pick up the boxes. When I checked out, the cashier asked me if I needed help getting my groceries to the car, which I didn't. "Did anyone ever ask you that before?" a friend asked. Nope. So, overall it was fine. I was just this generally healthy-looking person with an oxygen tube in her nose.
Later that day I was walking down the street, and I waved at a little toddler as I usually do, but this time I was a friendly person waving with an oxygen tube in her nose. The toddler smiled and waved back, as did his mother, so there's that.
Then yesterday at the movies, I was standing up facing the row behind me as I took off my coat, and the woman who sat facing me just stared full-on with an entirely unpleasant look on her face. I'm thinking - hoping - that she didn't mean to have that look. I'm guessing that she was thinking, "Hey, what's this young, healthy-looking person doing here with an oxygen tube in her nose?" I looked straight back at her, and in our silent conversation I responded, "Yes, I am young and healthy-looking, and I do have an oxygen tube in my nose. Now why don't you work on making some sense of that before the movie starts?"
Anyway, that's where I feel I am now, a walking reminder that people are going through all kinds of stuff - some visible, some invisible. If you're going through stuff, you are not alone, and you don't need to be invisible about it. And if you're not going through stuff, be humble and grateful.