Not Always What It Seems
As a casual teacher, I can receive a call from anywhere. On this particularly gorgeous, Monday morning I got a call to work at a lovely, private school near the beach and the gym I frequented. As I greeted all the Kindergarten children, I was surprised to see my “gym friend” dropping off his two girls.
Whenever I see him at the gym, he always gives off an aura of positivity and confidence. He is one of those guys that always looks perfect. His hair is never out of place and he is always sporting the newest workout gear. I, on the other hand, always look de-shuffled, sweaty and wearing workout-out clothes that are ten years old. He is constantly smiling and chatting to everyone in a calm, relaxed fashion. I am usually rushing around to cram in a whole-body workout in under an hour, so I can collect my children.
Over the years we have become “gym friends”. Our conversation moved from workouts to more personal chats about life. He would tell me about his many trips all over the world and how he designed his huge, beachfront house near our gym. He really seemed to have it all. The kicker was that he and his whole family would go to Canada every year skiing. I am Canadian and my girls have not even seen snow yet! So, although I feel terrible to admit it, I would feel jealously pulsing through my veins with each gym conversation.
“So, how is your husband’s business going?” he would politely ask in his usual positive tone. My husband was just trying to get a business off the ground, so there wasn’t much to comment on. I wanted to lie and say it was thriving because I knew how successful his had been. I knew this, due to the fact that he had retired at 35 years young!
When he introduced his two daughters at school that morning, I thought they were the most beautiful blond, blue-eyed girls I had ever seen. They had olive skin and really looked like little beach babies. After he dropped his younger girl to my classroom, he told me he was off to the beach for a surf. What a life? I was stuck teaching Kindy all day with probably no breaks and then I would be rushing home to take care of my three daughters and husband. Another day would pass with no free time for me, I selfishly thought to myself.
As I watched him make his way across the schoolyard to drop his other daughter to her classroom, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate he was. By the end of the day, however, I would be thinking differently.
Before I started teaching for the day, I noticed youngest the beach baby was hunched over silently in the corner, with a sad look on her face. Even when I tried to encourage her to join in and play with the others, she sat motionless, staring blankly at the wall. Not typical behaviour for a five-year-old.
When the Teaching Assistant saw the worried look on my face, she said,
“Oh, it is a tragedy. The girls’ mother was very sick for a long time and the father had to nurse her for years. He struggled so much with it and was trying to hold everything together. He even quit his job. Eventually, his wife took her own life.”
“Oh my God!” I replied in shock.
“The girls were only two and three years old at the time. Apparently, they have never been the same since.”
My heart was breaking inside as I looked at the sad little girl. My motherly instincts just wanted to grab her and hug her as tight as I could, but I knew that the child didn’t even know me.
I sat down on the corner of the nearby children’s table and tried to process all the information. It did not seem to be possible because he was always upbeat at the gym. He seemed to be so “together”. How could I not see past the surface? He never told me any of this and put on such a brave face. I was so quick to judge. I felt so terrible for what his family had gone through. Suddenly, this feeling of guilt gripped hold of my whole body. How could I be jealous of his life? I felt like a horrible person. I would never wish that life on anyone. All the material success in the world could never make up for the loss of the mother of his children. Sometimes life is not always what it seems.