“More Than Eye Can See,” Ensign, Sept. 1993, 48–49
Without realizing it, I had fallen into the habit of categorizing people by the way they reacted to my aging mother. In spite of her infirmities, at age eighty-seven Mother still acts and speaks with gentle dignity, and I am always grateful for the people who speak directly to her, hold the door for her, and don’t pull away if she touches them.
When we’ve been out together, I’ve occasionally had to suppress my annoyance at slights from strangers. More than once, for example, a waitress has looked at me and asked, “What’ll she have, honey?” gesturing toward my mother as if she couldn’t possibly order for herself. Perhaps no event has been as vivid, though, as a recent encounter in the shopping mall where we like to walk.
Though my mother can’t do many of the things she once enjoyed, she still loves to go out. One of her favorite diversions is window shopping, and the shopping mall is a light, cheerful place where the temperature is always pleasant, and the floor surfaces are smooth and easy to walk on—even for her shuffling, arthritic feet. Best of all, the mall has wooden benches at intervals along the way, so we can stop and rest whenever Mother gets tired. At times we’ll buy a freshly baked cookie or an ice cream cone and sit together as we eat, amused by the infinite variety of people flowing past.
One afternoon we ventured into a department store at the mall to make a small purchase. By the time we completed our errand, Mother was leaning heavily on my arm, obviously tired and ready to sit down. We walked slowly out of the store, and I noticed a bench directly ahead of us. Unfortunately, a group of eccentric teenagers lolled around it. Through the thick haze of their cigarette smoke, I noticed their jelled hair—spiked and cut strangely, in unnatural colors—their garish earrings, and dark-colored clothing. The noise of their raucous laughter and coarse language told me there was no way we would stop there.
Just then several of the kids jumped up and approached us. Oh, no, what do they want? I wondered. Were we about to encounter more than simple rudeness—perhaps an incident of teasing or confrontation? My body stiffened with a tremor of fear.
“Sit here, we’ll go someplace else,” said one of the girls. “Yeah, it’s okay, you can use this bench,” added a boy whose jeans hung down his legs in a fringe of threads. In a few seconds they swept up their backpacks, drinks, and candy wrappers and disappeared, leaving only the pungent scent of their tobacco lingering in the air.
Grateful but a bit shocked, I settled Mother on the bench and sat down beside her. As I glanced after the darkly clad little band disappearing down the corridor, I found a fragment of scripture passing through my mind: “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7.)
How many other times had I allowed my oversensitive feelings to trap me in a destructive habit of judging others? The teenagers I so quickly labeled had seen a need and had understood, had shown kindness and compassion. Underneath the unsavory outward appearance, there was a heart I never would have suspected. But then I was so busy judging that I hadn’t even looked.